The Damaging Effects of Denial

What do we gain by ignoring a problem?  Does the denial of a conflict or challenge make it go away?


Consider major manufacturing companies such as Toyota and General Electric.  Both have enjoyed enormous success by producing long-lasting quality products, yet both have been stung in the past by ignoring problems with their manufacturing processes.  In each case, teams, management, and executives either denied the problems altogether or felt that the issues were minor, despite news to the contrary.

It may seem ridiculous that these companies once ignored faulty braking systems and defective appliance sensors for as long as they did, but that’s the unfortunate power of denial.  As the great writer Mark Twain once said, “It’s not what you don’t know, it’s what you know that just ain’t so.”  We can convince ourselves of a lot of things that just ain’t so.


And it’s not just big companies that fall into this trap.  How many times do we miss the cause and effect relationship of our own performance and the subpar outcomes we achieve?  Telling ourselves it will get better without taking corrective steps is an invitation to repeat the same mistakes.

The same goes for the teams we lead.  Interpersonal conflict does not magically heal itself, and dismissing major issues as personality quirks is a recipe for losing control of your team.  In fact, conflicts and challenges require the opposite way of thinking, meaning we sometimes need to consider creative and innovative approaches to get better results.


Since we all fall victim at times to the power of denial, it’s critical that we open ourselves up to feedback from others.  We need input that challenges our way of thinking.  We need coaching to work through the stages of self improvement.  And even though it may be uncomfortable and require some extra work, the end result is far more beneficial than convincing ourselves of what just ain’t so.

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