Manage Cognitive Dissonance or be managed by it

There are few Human Emotions as strong as the will to reduce Cognitive Dissonance. Back in 1957 Leon Festinger published a book about it and ever since the theory has been studied and used to explain Human Behavior and Attitudes.

The bottom line is that we have an inner drive to hold all our attitudes and beliefs in harmony and avoid dissonance.

Word cloud for CognitionOne of my nephews is a master at this. We will go into a theme park and he really does not feel comfortable to get into one of the roller coaster rides. This creates dissonance between his self image of being a brave boy who participates in the group activity and the reality that he does not dare to get into the ride. He will reduce the dissonance by every means possible; “this ride is boring”, “I have a headache”, “Someone needs to stay here to hold the bags”, “I had bacon for breakfast” etc.

Now the problem with reducing cognitive dissonance is that it usually only works for you and all the others see your behavior for what it is and judge you on the basis of the behavior, not on the basis of your convoluted explanation of it.

In business life and management it is the same. You will encounter lots of this behavior in your team and will have to work with the individuals to help them overcome their issues. Likewise you will have to reflect on what you have done, how you work, what your results are and face it for what it is, not shy away for the dissonance but rather work through it to find ways to overcome the urge to reduce it by coming up with a weak story.

Face failure, learn from it. Don’t be afraid of the cognitive dissonance, it is  a useful tool to guide you the next time and to reflect on what causes you to feel uncomfortable or not act the way you would really want to. If you don’t overcome the urge to reduce cognitive dissonance, you will eventually be managed by it as the whole world sees right through it and will have a field day with it. (“….. but I did not inhale”). When you face and admit to failure you will grow from it and gain respect for having had the experience, thus being unlikely to repeat it.


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