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Denial is Bad News

Denial is bad for you. Denial will prevent you from progressing your career. Denial can lead to isolation.

What is denial?

Whenever faced with change, we usually pass through several phases before acceptance. And the first of those phases is denial.

Denial is when you are faced with a situation, but you will not accept it. I say ‘will not’ because the way that you respond or react to the things going on around you, or what people say to you, is your choice. You choose to 'put your head in the sand'.

Why is it important?

Some people go through these phases in a matter of minutes – especially if a positive change is coming. But some people need much longer to process the news and accept that change is happening, in particular if it’s going to impact them negatively.

Being in denial will cause your conscious and sub-conscious mind to get into a fight. We have something called the ‘reticular activating system’ – or RAS – which funnels information between our subconscious and conscious. The RAS allows us to live by our values, to sense danger, and even helps us to wake up after sleep.

Whilst we soak up 40 million bits of information per second, our brain can only process around 40 bits of information per second. If we didn’t have our RAS we would go into meltdown.

When you deny that something is happening you are attempting to control your emotions. And when you do that, you will create internal conflict because on the one hand your subconscious is telling your RAS to tell your conscious that something important is happening and you need to pay attention.

But your conscious mind is saying ‘no, you’re wrong, this isn’t happening’. Let me give you an example.

A few years ago I was delivering a workshop on presentation and interview skills and noticed that one of the participants wasn’t engaging in any of the discussions, nor was he taking part in the exercises.

When you have a room full of people it simply isn’t appropriate to start questioning an individual about their lack of enthusiasm, and it wasn’t until the afternoon break that I was able to have a conversation with him.

The upshot of our talk was that he had been told eight months previously that his job was going to be cut, but he had convinced himself it wasn’t true because he was a ‘good guy’ and a hard worker.

Strong Emotional Intelligence is Good News!

As I already said, denial is a mechanism that you put in place when you choose to not accept something. And a lot of the time people do it to themselves because they don’t want to deal with a change that is coming up – perhaps it’s fear of the unknown.

But in the example I have just given, at the very latest when the last day of work had been done, that individual would have gone into shock, and potentially worse.

1. Acknowledge what you’re feeling, even if you receive bad news. You don’t have to like it or run around laughing and pretend to be brave. It’s ok to feel upset. It’s ok to feel angry. It’s ok to feel rejected. Simply be aware of what is happening on an emotional level.

2. Manage those feelings, don’t control them. Give them a name and then let them go. For example, if I’m feeling upset about something, I imagine the word ‘upset’ in a soap bubble, and I watch it float away and burst – and then it’s gone!

This may sound simplistic, but it works. Unless of course you tell yourself it can’t work, in which case it won’t.

3. Restructuring, mergers, downsizing, expansion – these are all workplace changes that will affect you. But whilst managers have an obligation to support their staff through these processes, they cannot make you feel anything, and you cannot blame them for how you’re feeling.

Remember that how you feel is your choice, and yours alone.

You wouldn’t want your colleagues, friends or family to lie to you would you? So why would you do it to yourself? Be honest about your feelings, and your conscious and subconscious will be much better friends.


If you would like to read more about using your emotional intelligence to reduce stress, click here for a special offer for the electronic version of my book 'Working Under Pressure' (also available in hard copy from Amazon).

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