How to Deal With Colleagues in Denial (Video and Podcast)

8 min read
How to Deal With Colleagues in Denial (Video and Podcast)

To get colleagues in denial to believe the truth, use EGRIP: 1) discover their emotions; 2) then their goals; 3) build up rapport; 4) provide info to change their mind; 5) offer positive reinforcement for them updating their beliefs. That’s the key take-away message of this episode of the Wise Decision Maker Show, which describes how to deal with colleagues in denial. 

Video: “How to Deal With Colleagues in Denial”

Podcast: “How to Deal With Colleagues in Denial”

Links Mentioned in Videocast and Podcast

  • Here’s the article on How to Deal With Colleagues in Denial
  • The book Never Go With Your Gut: How Pioneering Leaders Make the Best Decisions and Avoid Business Disasters is available here
  • You are welcome to register for the free Wise Decision Maker Course 



Welcome to another episode of The Wise Decision Maker Show, where you improve your ability to make the wisest and most profitable decisions. Today, we’ll talk about how to deal with irrational colleagues.  Now, have you ever heard your colleague say something that kind of made your jaw drop, made you really surprised that they could be thinking, saying, believing something like that?  Irrational beliefs by your colleagues happen much more often than you think they might.  

There was a study by Leadership IQ of 1087 members of boards of directors that fired their chief executive officers, and it found that the top 5 reasons – so over 20% of the CEOs that were fired were fired because of denialism.  What they meant by denialism was that the CEOs refused to face negative information about the company’s performance. 

Some of the CEOs were – now there were plenty of CEOs around who had to deal with a negative situation occurring, and that’s fine. That’s not the problem that these directors were concerned with.  The boards of director were concerned with CEOs denying, ignoring negative information, thinking everything was going great while things were actually going downhill.  

In fact, research on this topic shows that this phenomenon of denialism – you might have heard of it as the Ostrich Effect. This is the specific judgement error, cognitive bias that causes denialism.  It’s named after the mythical idea that ostriches stick their heads in the sand when they see threats coming.  It doesn’t actually happen, but that’s what people think. It’s called the Ostrich Effect after that. And if you have been following this show for a while, you know that we have over 100 of these dangerous judgment errors that cause us to make really bad decisions in business environments, so does the Ostrich Effect. And the Ostrich Effect, if the CEO has this, then it trickles down through the rest of the company through company culture.  

It hurts the whole company as a whole if the CEO is one of those CEOs/leaders who feel the Ostrich Effect and refuses to recognize negative reality. 

It doesn’t need to only come from the CEO. This denialism, this Ostrich Effect happens throughout the organization.  Sometimes the CEO doesn’t have it, but middle managers have it, or the head of the department has it or, of course, just the line worker has it somewhere. So that happens independently of the CEO.  

This is a serious problem in an organization because if you have a false belief, you can’t really deal with the business situation that’s going on, and that’s really bad. Now, our intuition when we see that somebody has false beliefs is to confront these people with the facts. “Here are the facts.” “Change your mind, go on.”   “Let’s focus on the bottom line,” or whatnot.  It doesn’t work. How often have arguments changed people’s minds, in your opinion? It doesn’t work well, at least.  For some people, it happens, but it really doesn’t work well – not nearly as well as addressing the real causes of the problem.  

When somebody believes something irrational in the face of clear evidence that it’s not true, that the actual issue is something else, you have to suspect that there is an emotional block in play.  And most of the dangerous judgment errors/cognitive biases come from an emotional place.  So, you have to understand that there is an emotional block in play, and you need to use emotional intelligence and social intelligence to deal with this issue. 

Emotional intelligence refers to our awareness of our emotions and our ability to manage our emotions. Social intelligence refers to our understanding of other people’s emotions and our ability to influence those people and their emotions, their relationships between us and them, and the relationships between those people and other people. So, you have to use both those two skills to effectively change those people’s minds towards reality.

Now, a number of reasons might be explaining what’s going on, what results in the Ostrich Effect. The Ostrich Effect is not the cause – it is the result.  For example, there is another cognitive bias called the confirmation bias, where we ignore information that doesn’t fit our beliefs and where we look for information that only confirms our beliefs. 

Let’s say there is a CEO somewhere and the company is not doing as well as they hoped it would. The CEO might think, might feel – it’s not really much of a thinking process, it’s an intuitive gut reaction process – that because they are great, they are awesome, the CEO is awesome, that the company should be doing great, and whatever evidence that indicates that it’s not is bad evidence and should be ignored for some reason or other. 

So, that’s kind of how the situation goes.  And of course, because that person is the CEO, even the right-thinking people in the company are not going to go against the CEO. Or if they do, they might not last long under that type of CEO.  So that’s a clear example of where it occurs.

Another sort of thing that might happen, now this is an example that I faced myself – there was a manager in a department for a company for which I was consulting who made a hire, and the hire turned out to be pretty bad, or so the other people in the department were telling me. But despite the hints and the evidence that the person was a bad hire, the manager refused to do anything serious, anything real, about addressing this problem. And so, they turned to me. I was working on a different consulting project, but they knew my skills in this sort of area, and they said, “Hey, can you help out with this?”

So, okay, that’s what I decide to do, and I used a technique that I use often in these situations. I developed it specifically for these sorts of situations, where there is evidence that the reality is one thing and people believe another thing.  This technique is called EGRIP.  It helps you address the emotions of people who are denying reality and bring them toward actually believing reality.  

Again, EGRIP. It’s an acronym, of course. It refers to Emotions, Goals, Rapport, Information, and Positive reinforcement, Again Emotions, Goals, Rapport, Information, and Positive reinforcement. Got it? Great.

First step, monitor their Emotions. Figure out what they are feeling. Now, you might ask, if emotions are the problem, shouldn’t we suppress our emotions? I mean, it’s the workplace, right? What place should emotions have there? But they do have a huge place. We are motivated to do what we do by our emotions. Emotions are very important. They are not something to be suppressed or repressed or anything like this. You can gently guide them in the right directions, and you can help other people shift their feelings because feelings result from beliefs. And if you can shift their beliefs, you can shift their feelings somewhat, in order to be aligned with whatever is the best thing for the company. 

The first thing in addressing the emotions is to understand their emotions. Use the skill of empathy. The technical definition of empathy is understanding what other people are feeling. Use curiosity. Talk to those people. Talk to the person. Don’t directly say, “Why are you not reprimanding this person who is performing badly? Ask about what is going on in the situation.  Ask them how they feel and what their goals are. Focus on deploying the skills of empathy and curiosity to understand what their feelings are about the situation. 

Then, focus on the Goals. What are their goals in the situation? What do they want to achieve? Once you understand their feelings, you want to understand their goals, their objectives.  Sometimes people might not realize what their own goals are.  Then, you can help them realize it and that will help them to align towards reality.  

Now, with the manager, I asked her about her goals for the department, what she wanted to achieve. Before that, I asked her how she felt about the department, about what was going on.   She felt some anxiety about the future of the department, in the context of not so positive financial news about the company. Not that the department was going to be cut, but in terms of budget cuts and problems. And so, one of the things that she told me about for the emotions part was that she was anxious about the kind of budget that the department would get for future hires. 

And that, of course, helped me understand why she would not be willing to reprimand or change or somehow address this current poor hire – because she was afraid that she wouldn’t get more money for future hires.  Okay.

So, the goals. I talked to the manager about the goals, and what she wanted – of course, like many managers do – she wanted her department to grow, to prosper, of course, to benefit the company. So, got the goals. Emotions, E. G, Goals.

Next is R.  You want to get yourself on the same side as this person by building up Rapport, a sense of connection showing that you care about them, you care about their goals. And what you want to do is use techniques like mirroring, which is rephrasing the other persons statements’ in your own words, showing that you understand them and, at the same time, that you care about what they are saying. That helps build trust.  Use listening, active empathetic listening, which is essentially a skill where you hear their emotions and you echo their emotions. You already learned about their emotions. Here is where you repeat their emotions and you show them by telling them that you understand what they are feeling.

So, the manager, I steered the conversation to how she saw the current and future employees, how she saw them shaping the future of the department, her aspirations, her goals for the department to prosper and grow. I echoed her anxiety about the company’s future about how much of a budget she might get for the department and the concerns about funding future hires. 

Next, lead them away from their false beliefs by giving them information. That’s Step 4 of the EGRIP. The fourth step of the EGRIP is I, for Information. You don’t start with Information, which is what the vast majority of the people do. You have it as the fourth step, the one before the last. So, you place yourself on the same side. The other person feels that you care about them. You care about their goals. You understand their emotions. 

You care about them. You care about this problem.  So, you want to address now their emotional block by sharing factual information that aligns with their goals and addresses their emotions in such a way as to achieve their goals by getting them to actually see the facts, and acknowledge the facts even though they might be uncomfortable to acknowledge. 

So, that’s the key. That’s the key to addressing the problem. You want to avoid inspiring either a defensive response or an aggressive response, which is what you would get if you share information to someone with an emotional block without addressing their emotions, building up rapport, and getting their goals. 

So, with the manager, I asked her to identify which of the employees most contributed to her goals for the department and which of the employees contributed least to her goals for the department.  So, I didn’t say, “Which of these employees is bad?” I asked, “Hey, tell me about this. Tell me about that.”  And we talked about it and she kind of identified, as part of this conversation when she was able to fairly evaluate all the employees, she was able to identify that the employee she hired, and was the matter at hand, was actually the one who contributed least to the future of the department.

Now, I brought up information about how employees who are not so important to the future of the department, who are poor performing employees, they are often a drag on the rest of the group.  Now, we don’t notice how they undermine the performance of the rest of the group. So, they hurt team morale. They hurt that, they hurt the collaborative spirit because they are not as good of a collaborator. They hurt retention because good employees seeing that there are bad employees on the team often want to move to a different team, even department, within the company. 

This, of course, was scary for the manager to hear, that some current employees might move out of the department. So, you want to use, if you can, fairly and honestly use emotions against the current emotions that they are feeling. Show how this information you are providing is helping address the emotions, and you are using some of the negative emotions about this future threat of other employees leaving against the current situation which they are not feeling, so they are only focusing on, “Hey, I can’t let go of this employee because I won’t get more money.” Well, has she thought about how current employees are feeling? How current employees might leave the department or the company as a whole if the employee who is clearly incompetent stays on? She hadn’t thought about that. 

Another thing she hasn’t thought about is how lower expectations as set for this poor-performing employee are lowering expectations for everyone else. People rise to the expectations of others around them and to the performance level of others around them. So, good performers are reinforced by good performers. And if there is a poor performer, they kind of slack off. It’s just natural. It’s the way that humans are. They are not bad people. It’s just how we are. It’s how our brain works. 

After all that, steering the conversation to this poor performer, we agreed something needs to be done, so she and I discussed a plan, benchmarks, how to improve the performance of this employee, a recovery plan, and if the employee did not meet the agreed upon benchmarks, she would let the employee go.  

So, that was great, that was what l wanted to achieve. Don’t skip this last step of EGRIP. Don’t stop at “I”.  The last step is perhaps the most important, actually. It’s positive reinforcement, “P”.  Positive reinforcement: you want to praise, in a subtle way, not being condescending or arrogant, the person who changed their mind for changing their mind. You want to highlight how this is a big strength. 

For example, you want to bring up prominent CEOs who succeeded because of changing their mind, like Alan Mullally at Ford, and many others who are able to succeed because they changed their mind. That is a critical strength. And so, you want to reinforce the ability to change her mind, other people’s minds, toward reality – whatever reality shows is important because you don’t want to be having this conversation in the future. The more you’re able to associate positive reinforcement with believing the truth and with updating beliefs, the less likely you are to have such conversations in the future.

That’s the technique, EGRIP. Again, use it for every time you see your colleagues not facing the facts of reality because they’re having an emotional block. That’s the reason that they’re not facing clear reality. So, don’t argue. Don’t present them with facts right away. Use EGRIP, and use that technique to help yourself to get them into a space where they can actually hear you and where you can actually improve your relationships, not harm it, by having this healthy conversation.

Much more information is available in the blog on this topic that’s linked in the show notes. There are a variety of other relevant blogs as well. If you like this show, I hope you click Like. I hope you leave your thoughts in the comments. I’d love to engage with you and hear what you think. Please make sure to subscribe to the “Wise Decision Maker Show” using whatever platform you’re using to check out this show. Please leave a review. I’d love to get your thoughts on the show itself. Follow us on social media.  All of the Follow links are in the notes. To learn much more about making the wisest and most profitable decisions, I recommend that you register for my free “Wise Decision Maker” course. There are 8 video-based modules in that, at, and that’s also in the notes. For more in-depth information and more techniques, check out my book:  “Never Go With Your Gut: How Pioneering Leaders Make The Best Decisions And Avoid Business Disasters”. 

I hope to see you on the next episode of the “Wise Decision Maker Show”. And as always, I’m wishing you the wisest and most profitable decisions.  

Bio: An internationally-recognized thought leader known as the Disaster Avoidance Expert, Dr. Gleb Tsipursky is on a mission to protect leaders from dangerous judgment errors known as cognitive biases by developing the most effective decision-making strategies. A best-selling author, he is best known for Never Go With Your Gut: How Pioneering Leaders Make the Best Decisions and Avoid Business Disasters (Career Press, 2019), The Blindspots Between Us: How to Overcome Unconscious Cognitive Bias and Build Better Relationships (New Harbinger, 2020), and Resilience: Adapt and Plan for the New Abnormal of the COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic (Changemakers Books, 2020). He published over 550 articles and gave more than 450 interviews to prominent venues such as Inc. Magazine, Entrepreneur, CBS News, Time, Business Insider, Government Executive, The Chronicle of Philanthropy, Fast Company, and elsewhere. His expertise comes from over 20 years of consulting, coaching, and speaking and training as the CEO of Disaster Avoidance Experts. It also stems from over 15 years in academia as a behavioral economist and cognitive neuroscientist. Contact him at Gleb[at]DisasterAvoidanceExperts[dot]com, Twitter @gleb_tsipursky, Instagram @dr_gleb_tsipursky, LinkedIn, and register for his free Wise Decision Maker Course.