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Today’s workplace can be challenging, even dysfunctional, and many things may seem outside of your control – like climbing the corporate ladder.  Are you trying to be an effective leader, improve your skills, and get promoted amidst these roadblocks?  Did you know that you might be sabotaging your efforts with seven flawed behaviors?  Not only that, you may be contributing to the challenges and dysfunctions of your organization.  The good news is that not all is lost – you have more control over your career path than you think!

While I shed some light on these dysfunctional behaviors try to see if any of them resonate with you. 

Black or White Thinking: This is an ‘and/or’ mentality that represents inflexible thinking.  Something must be either one way or another and there is no in between.  Thinking in this way makes it difficult to collaborate, brainstorm, give and receive feedback, and think outside of the box.

Thinking the Worst:  If you frequently think the worst you are automatically setting yourself and your team up for failure.  This type of thinking is demotivating and will instantly impact your business goals in a negative way.

Mind Reading:  If you think you know what someone else is thinking, what they will say, or what they will do next you are mind reading.  This causes faulty communication and stifles otherwise productive conversations.

Should / Must Statements:  Here are some examples of this type of dysfunctional behavior: “We have to do it this way, this is how we’ve always done it.”  Or “You should go to the business event otherwise people will think you’re being rude”.  Use caution before using the words “should, must, have to” and the like. 

Emotional Reasoning:  This is the act of justifying – your behavior or the behavior of another.  There is a difference between explaining and justifying.  Explaining is about relaying the facts and taking accountability during the explanation.  Emotional reasoning, or justifying, is about trying to get yourself or someone else off the hook.

Filtering:  The behavior of sifting through all the information and focusing only on the negative is called filtering.  There may be plenty of positive information or feedback but if you are in the habit of landing on the negative then you’re filtering.  This will devastate self-esteem and motivation.

Jumping to Conclusions:  Similar to mind reading, jumping to conclusions is about thinking that you know the future outcome.  However, when you’re mind reading you are focused on someone else and what they might say or do next.  Jumping to conclusions usually happens when you are trying to predict the outcome of a situation. 

The Risk You’re Taking

Many of these dysfunctional behaviors are related and you might be using several within the same situation.  If they aren’t addressed your leadership is at risk and so is your career trajectory – here’s why.  Your behavior is modeled in front of your team, the team inadvertently picks up your subtle cues and starts modeling the same behavior throughout the rest of the organization.  To add to the dysfunction – other teams and leaders start acting the same way and there you have it…. you’ve successfully contributed to the challenges and dysfunction of your own organization.  Here are the final outcomes of that organization-wide behavior:  low self-confidence, defensiveness, poor negotiation skills, high stress, lack of executive presence, low productivity, conflict, bias, customer complaints, poor relationships, lost sales.  And there goes that next promotion.   

Strategies to Get on Track

You can, however, mitigate the risk of this toxicity by improving your cognitive agility.  Cognitive agility is the ability to pay attention to your thoughts and be aware of any sabotaging patterns.  You can successfully derail wasted thoughts, choose your thoughts with a process called selective thinking, and increase emotional discipline. 

As a leader, you can benefit from increased cognitive agility by overcoming automatic responses, being proactive rather than reactive, and having better focus during conversations.  Other benefits include enhanced problem-solving skills, greater executive presence when under pressure, and overall better management of emotions.  Your credibility as a leader will soar and so will your chances to fast track your career.

You can’t go wrong when improving cognitive agility and here are some strategies that will help.

Mindsight: This is an exercise in building awareness of your patterns.  Once you’re aware of your dysfunctional thoughts and behaviors you can then start recognizing them and take further action.

Cognitive Reframing: This is a process to help you shift perspectives and think outside of the box.  You will learn to imagine new outcomes, make subtle shifts in language, and manage your emotions in a healthier way. 

Putting Thoughts on Trial:  You will learn to question your own thoughts before you deem them accurate.  For example, before you say, “We have to do it this way”, you will think “Do we really have to do it this way, why?”  You will catch and question yourself before you act.

There are many challenges and roadblocks that you can’t control in the workplace, but you certainly can control your own thoughts and behaviors.  Improving cognitive agility will help eliminate dysfunctional behaviors that may be sabotaging your leadership and that next promotion. 

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