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Beliefs Trump Facts: An Introduction

Management Corner – Part 3

Annette Reissfelder, a Professional Accredited Coach active in Prague and Hamburg, shares her musings on management, innovation and beliefs in this series first published in BUSINESSWOMAN this summer.

This article first appeared in “BusinessWoman” in June 2013.

In the Czech Republic, many people call the time they spend in the gym “čas na sebe”. Now I am not suggesting that people cannot have meaningful thoughts on a treadmill – in fact, I like reading difficult texts on a training bike. But for me, time for myself has always been time where I do absolutely nothing: sitting in the sun or in a café, by myself, not chatting with a friend. Such “real free time” is what we need – time to let our thoughts wander – if we want to notice how our beliefs shape our thinking, since these are usually at work below our attention threshold. Which is exactly why they take some active awareness to even notice them at work… (BTW They work 24/7, so once you are alerted, I dare say you are in for some amazing discoveries!)

Beliefs trump facts; as someone who often experiences that behaviour changes only take place when beliefs have changed, and not when more knowledge has been acquired, I am here to tell you that people only take in those facts that reinforce their existing beliefs.

I know this sounds shocking, but the research is absolutely unambiguous. Don’t take my word for it: next time you have angry comments or words of praise for someone or something, take notice – most likely these are only expressions of your existing beliefs. The more emotional your response, the more likely there is a value conflict (real or, quite possibly, imagined). Beliefs don’t change when confronted with conflicting evidence – our brains find ways to reorganize our knowledge, or simply ignore such information.

BTW I am no ardent believer in always-more, bigger-better, or that all people have to have great careers at any cost. If you happen to be working on less worldly goals, chances are you find those myths (or their “ugly cousins”) at work wherever you look, anyway.

In my profession, I have a license to confront people with blind spots in their belief systems, because I only meet the “owners” of those beliefs when they already noticed that they can’t find good solutions to their dilemmas and double-bind situations – and assume there must be something they aren’t seeing. In their search for good way out of this, they are receptive to information that may be difficult to digest. That is an ideal precondition to inquire into those tough-as-a-nut-beliefs. But lifting the lid is a very instructive experience for everyone - so perhaps it’s time to discover some unquestioned beliefs that hold you back? You’ll find some clues in the next few articles where I will discuss The 6+1 beliefs that are setting us up to lose, one by one.

These short discussions are designed to bump your thinking up out of the tactical, and into the strategic. When I talk about limiting beliefs, I don’t mean things like the glass ceiling, or working mothers’ double burden. While these are relevant, what I am concerned with are beliefs in disguise: the attitudes and mind-sets about ourselves and our careers which we assume are perfectly natural reactions to what we observe in the outside world. We tend to think these beliefs are careful, logical assessments of objective facts. And this is precisely the fallacy: we overlook that we have created those beliefs ourselves.

For it’s not like we have beliefs or hold mind-sets; it’s much more like those beliefs and mind-sets are “having/holding” us. They run the show while allowing us to delude ourselves that our rational selves are calling the shots.

In 13 years as a full-time coach, I have had lots of opportunities to witnessed that it is often not the how-to part of management and leadership that is at the core of my client’s issues, but the limiting or outdated beliefs and attitudes they held. When you are stuck in a mind-set, it is hard to take action, to move forward, and to get things done. On the other hand, if you get your self-sabotaging beliefs out of your way, you’ll really have a better life! Small disclaimer here: this requires some work… and some beliefs in disguise can be pretty tough to identify in oneself. On the other hand, we absolutely CAN identify some of our sabotaging mind-sets – and, what is even more important - defuse a few, once we have ideas about what might be driving them. As I said before, it’s not like we have beliefs or hold mind-sets; it’s much more like those beliefs and mind-sets are “having/holding” us. They run the show while allowing us to delude ourselves that our rational selves are calling the shots.

I’d like to showcase just a few beliefs by way of illustration, as well as give you some hints as to possible ways out. Some of them definitely have a strong gender bias - but most work equally well for men to prevent them from taking this crucial next step in their personal (and professional, these things tend to go together) development. I will be looking specifically into those “Sneaky Seven”:

  1. “I must succeed, no matter what: Ambition
  2. “I don’t know what to do”: Confusion
  3. “Things are not going fast enough”: Impatience
  4. “I am not getting what I want”: Frustration
  5. “I am not worthy to succeed”: Unworthiness
  6. “I’ll be hurt or rejected if I take action”: Fear of rejection
  7. “It’s someone else’s fault”: Blame

In the next part, Annette will turn to the individual beliefs. She’ll present them one at a time, so you have some space to ponder over them, if you detect one that is affecting you.

Management Corner – Part 1 Why Good Girls could be losing out in the workplace now
Management Corner – Part 2 The New Management Ideal
Management Corner – Part 4 Personal Myths: Beliefs That Might Be Holding You Back

About the author: Annette ( studied economics and holds a master degree in psychology. She started her coaching training in 1998 while she ran a management consultancy for manufacturing companies. Today her clients are business owners and senior managers who want to actively shape an important personal or professional change project. In her work, she combines the roles of consultant, strategic thinking partner and psychologist. She is multilingual and works in German, Czech and English.  

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