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Dangers of Rationalization

Rationalization: The action of attempting to explain or justify behavior or an attitude with logical reasons, even if these are not appropriate.

There is nothing more hindering than a professional who lacks accountability. We will all make mistakes. Mistakes will hopefully lead to phenomenal learning experiences. But we miss these opportunities to grow and evolve when we seek to rationalize our poor decisions versus own up to our choices and the outcomes generated from it. Rationalization parallels excuses. Excuses hinder growth. Let’s discuss the dangers of rationalizations in three ways:

Unconscious Rationalizations

Rationalizations are deceptive and often hard to resist because we do not always realize our actions are due to careless rationalizations. As leaders we naturally have faith in our product and team and trust that everyone and every moving piece is working to the best of their ability. If you are not a micro manager it easy to pass the cause and liability of many issues that arise on to your team.

There is only one solution to avoid getting trapped in this habit that you don’t even know you are participating in. Check in with an accountability partner! Have someone who is tangible to you, honest, and observant in your circle. When you struggle to be objective their ability to be non bias, their wit, and unconditional support yet directness will set you straight every time.

Team Setbacks

If you rationalize and accept excuses so will your team. Rationalization produces procrastination. “This can be done later” or “Someone else will handle this” are attitudes assumed by a team stuck in a cycle of continuous rationalization. Accountability is reduced when accepting excuses and unjustified reasons for missing the mark becomes the norm.

Perhaps the biggest issue that rationalization will cause your team is that it sets the tone for a disingenuous and unauthentic work culture. “Rationalization is actually a defense mechanism that allows you to justify bad behavior or feelings. It's a way to distort facts to make things look better than they do – to convince others and yourself that your motives and actions are good, not bad .” Following you, your team will wear masks versus participating in team building and relying on each other because trust is not established.

Alternatives to Rationalizations

I and my colleagues have worked with corporations throughout the country on developing their leaders and creating blueprints to help them reach their goals. To set them up for success we have to also evaluate their challenges. In our experience, every single challenge gets solved and every obstacle gets removed when we tackle problems head on with LEADERS and alter their method of working and thinking. We start at the top. When we change their mindset and their effectiveness, the correction trickles down. So to avoid rationalization:

  1. Do not pass your challenge or a task assigned specifically to you on to someone else. Assume full responsibly.

  2. Maintain a healthy separation. Do not compare or consider personal life circumstances or outside forces as factors in your objectives or challenges.

  3. Start from the beginning. Pace yourself and solve your problems by looking at the whole picture and move in sequence so that you can review all of the causes and effects. "Rationalization starts from a conclusion, and then works backward to arrive at arguments apparently favoring that conclusion.”- Wiki Less Wrong. Start at the beginning and use a responsible time table to get to a solution instead of assuming a solution and working backwards.

  4. Logic > emotions. Base your decisions on sound logic and reason. When you base your decisions on your current emotions you lose the ability to be objective and get stuck operating in search of quick fixes versus long-term goal reaching.

We all have justified a behavior. Seeking justification in such a demanding world and workplaces that lack empathy is an easy habit to establish. Yet still, we can decide to own our truths and remain objective so that we can truly create solutions and be change agents at work and society. Just ask the question “where do I go from here”? The goal is to always be solution based and never rely on excuses and false narratives.

If this inspires you and you want more thoughtful commentary and discussions on leadership, success, professionalism, and more subscribe to my YouTube Channel here:

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As a speaker and author, my focus is to train emerging and seasoned leaders to align strategy with equity, change and communication.

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