Why, when faced with inconvenient truths - that don’t fit our beliefs - do we plug our fingers in our ears, close our eyes, and scream loudly at the world?
Like you, I'm sure we’ve experienced interactions just like this with every level of authority.
There's nothing worse than management proclaiming one thing, and when presented with the facts proving otherwise, still proclaimed to be right.
Having this ‘type’ of mindset and ego-centrist belief may help leaders gain resilience, confidence and possibly even a following on their rise to the top.
But, at the top this attitude causes damage to their workplace culture, innovation and productivity.
Fair to say, when we choose to ignore the evidence or best people in our business its probably because our ego and arrogance has finally taken hold.
So why does it happen?
Well, according to recent scientific examination its built into our DNA.
Research shows that we all experience genuine pleasure—a rush of dopamine—when processing information that supports our beliefs - And when we receive evidence to the contrary, we feel a distinct hurt, like a mental-punch to the gut.
Ok, but what's the worse that can happen when we ignore what's right?
A good example of how bad things can get is the tragic story of Dr. Semmelweis.
It’s a gruesome tale of mothers and babies dying within 24 hours of their birth from raging fevers, painful abscesses, and an irreversible descent into an absolute hell of sepsis and death.
In the mid-19th century, about five women in 1,000 died in deliveries performed by midwives at home. Yet when doctors in the best maternity hospitals in Europe and America performed deliveries, the maternal death rate increased 10 to 20 times.
After a great deal of examination, Dr Semmelweis identified the reason behind the deaths.
You see, a ‘typical day’ for Doctors began in the morning performing autopsies and then proceeding to the wards to examine women about to deliver their babies.
They did this without washing their hands or changing their clothes.
What seems like a logically case of cross-contamination to us was a great unknown in the mid-19th century – But Dr Semmelweis observations proved that when Doctors washed their hands and changed their aprons the death toll went from 15% to less than 1%.
He presented his findings to the other Doctors.
As we know medicine is a science, science is supposed to be fact-driven, and doctors are supposed to be beholden to their Hippocratic oath.
However the “Establishment” rejected Dr Semmelweis evidence.
They simply could not believe Doctors were responsible for the deaths of mothers and their babies.
There was also a problem regarding the 'baked-in' culture among Doctors.
A bloodied apron was seen as a badge of honour - The bloodier the better!
After rejecting Dr Semmelweis evidence, the Doctors ousted him from the Austrian medical community, he suffered a nervous breakdown, was committed to an asylum and beaten to death fourteen days later.
It's difficult to accept that educated, rationale human beings with good intentions could not change their minds or accept the facts presented to them.
Because of this, lives were continually lost until 13 years later when the medical community accepted the findings, started to wash their hands and changed garments in-between their duties.
So how can we change this inability to change even when presented with the facts?
Is it even possible to fix it?
In our management and leadership workshops we provide this story and share techniques that raise awareness for managers and leaders to accept being wrong, or better still find pleasure in being proven wrong.
We also position management as being the ultimate privileged, to not always be right, but have the power to do right - So, can we change this damaging attitude?
I think so. And hope you do too.