Why Do Smart People Deny Serious Risks (and What to Do About It) (Video and Podcast)

9 min read
Why Do Smart People Deny Serious Risks (and What to Do About It) (Video and Podcast)

When dealing with smart people who deny serious risks, focus on their emotions, help them acknowledge reality, and positively reinforce their acceptance of risks. That’s the key take-away message of this episode of the Wise Decision Maker Show, which describes why smart people deny serious risks and what to do about it.


Video: “Why Do Smart People Deny Serious Risks (and What to Do About It)”



Podcast: “Why Do Smart People Deny Serious Risks (and What to Do About It)”



Links Mentioned in Videocast and Podcast


Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode of the Wise Decision Maker Show where we help you make the wisest and most profitable decisions. Today, I want to discuss why smart people, perhaps people like you, those, you know, deny serious risks and what you can do about it. So that’s gonna be the topic of today’s show. Risk denialism. Now, smart people deny risks very often, surprisingly, often, you’d be really shocked by how often they happen. So for example, talk about smart people, smart people, presumably are in top leadership positions. And there is a correlation between people’s top leadership positions, intelligence smarts, various exams, and so on. So, when you see the research on this topic, for example, there was a study of 286 organizations that fired their top executives. These are mostly companies and nonprofits, they’ve fired their top executives, and the stock 287 board members of these organizations. What the study found was that 23% of these top leaders 23% were fired for denying negative reality risks around their company facts or were problematic around the company, that organization was happening. So they were fired for denialism. That’s what they were fired for. Started, they were fired for bad performance, they were fired for actually just denying the problematic situation, the company either the bad performance of the company, or negative external risks, or a combination of both. Just denying that being way too optimistic, and denying these negative facts. And such denialism, especially if it’s modeled by people on top leadership positions, really spreads for the organization. But it also happens even when top leaders don’t experience or express risk nihilism that happens at all levels of the organization. Unless the organization takes proactive steps to address risk denialism. It just naturally happens, negative information doesn’t float to the top, it doesn’t get reported, various problems occur. So this risk nihilism is very frequent and seriously problematic for all sorts of organizations and all sorts of leaders. That reason that such risk denialism happens for pretty much everyone, it’s very common, it’s very intuitive to deny risks is that negative information, risk information feels bad to us. We don’t like it. And if you remember, the previous wise decision maker shows your recall of our emotions, when we just go ahead and let our emotions when we go ahead and decide how we ordinarily intuitively decide when we go with our gut. our emotions determine 80 90% of the decisions that we make 80 90%. So here’s what ordinarily happens, negative information, or serious risks, and so on, feels bad, it feels unpleasant. So we intuitively just flinch away from this negative information. We don’t want to hear it, we don’t like it. And we ignore it. And we sometimes punish people who bring us this information. So that’s bad, that’s problematic. That’s what happens. We don’t like to feel bad. We don’t like this. It’s unpleasant. So what you need to understand is that it takes strong ability and emotional intelligence to address risk denialism. You want to overcome your instinct and develop the skill of welcoming negative information. Now, emotional intelligence was that emotional intelligence has to do with you being aware, intelligent about your emotions, and the other component of intelligence is managing your emotions. So emotional intelligence has to do with awareness and management of your emotions. So you have to be aware that we tend to flinch away from negative information risks, threats, problems, negative realizations. I mean, there’s a reason that nearly half the marriages in the US ended in divorce, right? It takes effort to overcome our instincts around negative information, and then develop the skill, the ability to welcome praise those who bring you negative information, praise yourself for accepting this and welcoming this negative information. It’s a very hard counterintuitive thing to learn, as are many things on the wise decision maker show that help you make the wisest decisions. So that’s something that you have to realize is part of your experience. And it’s part of everyone’s experience. And you’re checking out this show you’re learning about other folks and so they’re going to be suffering from what’s called the ostrich effect. So the ostrich effect has to do is a cognitive bias when these dangerous judgment errors that talk about all the time that we make because of how our brains are wired, that cause us to deny negative reality. So it’s called the ostrich effect. That refers to some technical scientific name for this risk denialism. Now, it was named after the mythical notion that ostriches stick their head in the sand. When countering threats. That’s not what actually happens, but that’s what it’s named after. So the ostrich effect, you need to manage the ostrich effect within yourself. It’s very tempting for us to stick our head in the sand or somewhere else, when we don’t want to face negative reality. And there are lots of other related cognitive bias risks which you need to learn how to manage as well. They’re all talked about in my book, never go with your gut, how pioneering leaders make the best decisions and avoid business disasters. The ostrich effect is the really big key problem for risk denialism. Now, how do you deal with risk denialism, who, in others, so you want to deal with them within yourself? And we talked about this emotional intelligence, gaining awareness of when we’re trying to flinch away from negative information, and learning to welcome it, welcome it instead, praise yourself, praise others, for giving you this information. Praise yourself for welcoming in. What about others, when they’re denying negative information? How do you deal with them? Now, it’s very tempting for us to just go ahead and argue with them by stating facts, taking serious risks, and then arguing with them, when they deny that these are real facts, real serious risks. Unfortunately, arguments rarely change people’s minds, you’ll be surprised to hear that, but that’s just what the reality is, arguments are not great at changing people’s minds. So just stating these facts, just taking the risks will not work. Because when people are denying, pretty clear risks, when smart people especially are denying pretty clear serious risks, there’s likely some emotional blocks that are going on. And remember, emotions are determined at 90% of our decisions. So you gotta assume that there are some emotions that are going on that are blocking that person’s ability to appreciate and accept these risks. So to fight these blocks, use the strategy called egrip. Don’t just state facts, don’t just take risks, don’t argue, use eeglab instead, that is an acronym ygritte. That stands for five steps, a five step method to deal with risk deniers effectively, first you address their emotions, because of emotional block, then you find shared goals, then you build rapport, then you share some of them pleasant information, and then you can give them positive reinforcement for changing their minds. Let’s go through each of these steps in more depth, emotions. So again, emotions, you gotta assume, are at the root of why they’re not accepting these serious risks. So when someone denies facts, you have to assume that it’s caused by their emotions, and you want to understand what’s going on. So we talked about emotional intelligence that has to do with your understanding of yourself, your emotions, and your ability to manage your emotions. Now, the next the more complicated perhaps not necessarily depends on the kind of person you are, some people are more other oriented. The other aspect of dealing with emotions is dealing with other people’s emotions. And that has to do with social intelligence. So we have emotional intelligence that’s about us. social intelligence is about other people. So social intelligence has to do with awareness of and the ability to manage to influence other people’s emotions and their relationships with you and with each other. That’s what social intelligence is about. So, when you are trying to understand other people’s emotions, you have to employ the skill of social intelligence, social intelligence is the crucial skill. And I talk about that more in my book the blind spots between us how to overcome unconscious bias and build better relationships. So you have to assume that their emotions are blocking them and you have to identify what are the specific emotional blocks? What are the specific problems specific challenging emotions Is it fear is anxiety is grief? Is it anger is frustration is it loss, what are these emotions? So, you identify the emotions, you have that in mind? What do you do next? Next, you establish shared goals, understanding their emotions, you figure out within that space, which shared goals would be most relevant because we all share goals with each other, you know, me conveying that you know the people who are your enemies, you still share 95% of the goals with them. You want to have a safe life, a happy life. You like your family, you support them. They like their families. They Want to save life, they want a happy life, maybe the way they go about it is very different from you. But they still, you know, they like their pets, you like their pets, maybe your cat person, their cat person or your dog person, their dog person, you know, who knows? There’s things that we don’t realize that we share with each other. So you still share a lot with them. And so these underlying goals, you figured out, what are the goals that you share with them, if you’re in the same company for talking about your colleagues, you share the goal of the company making a profit and doing well for the world. If you are in another type of organization, you share the goal of achieving that mission of the organization. Whatever goals you share, figure those out, establish those shared goals. So shared understanding about those shared goals. And understand that this is crucial to the next steps of sharing knowledge that will help them get over their emotional blocks. So the goal establishment is the crucial precondition. So you understand their emotions, you establish shared goals, then I mean, if you’re collaborating on a shared project, then you want the project to go well, maybe a very different idea about how it should go, but still, you want to go. So for example, then after the goals, you get to report, build rapport with them and build an emotional connection. That’s what rapport is about, where you connect with that person, and you establish a sense of trust, a sense that you are on their side, because you share goals, and you understand their emotions, and you echo their emotions to them. You use empathetic listening, to hear them hear the kind of concerns that they’re raising. So you already understand their emotions, you’re you have shared goals, they’re going on to the specific concerns that they are expressing use empathetic listening to really get to the nitty gritty details, the depth of their emotions, and how well their emotional language, the blocks that they’re experiencing, and you want to echo their emotions, based from your previous understanding of their emotions, and these nitty gritty details that they’re sharing, Echo their emotions, use their language, to show that you understand them, that you empathize with them, that you understand where they are, that you understand what they’re feeling, and that you have shared goals here, you also talk about your shared goals with them, make clear that you share these goals that you’re in their same side. So you’re showing them that you understand how they feel, and that you’re on the same side. And by doing that you build up that bond of trust, this bond of trust is critical and could be radically important for the next step, which is sharing information. So here you’re going to those uncomfortable facts, that uncomfortable information, those serious risks, that they’re kind of denied. Then again, usually what people will do is they first and then argue about them. This is not good. It breeds a defensive response. So defensive response can be in two flavors, the fight response or the flight response. The fight response is where the person gets aggressive and starts arguing with you. The flight response can be them ignoring you or them nodding and saying Yeah, yeah, yeah. But they’re shutting down inside, and they’re not actually hearing you, they’re not paying attention to you, they’re just waiting until you go away. Neither of those is great. So that’s why I need to go through the whole egrip and the motions, goals and rapport, those three, emotions goals report, before you get to sharing information. Now, you share those uncomfortable facts in a very sensitive manner, highlighting how, hey, if they have the emotional block, if they have the challenging emotions that prevent them from accepting these negative information, these serious risks that they’re denying, then you will not accomplish your shared goals. And that’s what they want isn’t that so provide this new information that they didn’t realize before provides a new way, in the framing of your report being on the same side, in the framing of these shared goals that you share that will be compromised by them not accepting this information? And if you understand their emotions? So here, you’re challenging their lower level beliefs about the tactics that you use to accomplish their shared goals. But of course, it’s all about your shared goals, and you’re understanding their emotions. So you’re shifting their perception, their beliefs around the right tactics to accomplish these shared goals. And that’s the critical key, you still have the goal, they still get their underlying desires met, but they do it in a different way, in a way that accommodates and accepts the serious risks that they denied. You want to be especially sensitive around the actual pain point, whatever it happens to be, their actual emotions be especially sensitive around that big careful when you talk around this issue, and you’ll get from the center of the conversation how much you want to push on this. So get a push on this, well, as long as they’re comfortable, don’t go too far. And then they will very, very likely move at least somewhat toward your position toward your perspective. And that’s wonderful. That’s exactly what you want. This ygritte is not necessarily a one time conversation, not necessarily a one and done, it’s something that you’ll probably have to have a couple of times with someone depending on how big the issue is and how significant it is. I mean, if it’s not too significant, we, you might get away with one conversation. If it’s more significant than more basic to their emotions, this is a tactic that’s really important to them, then it might take you more time. But anyway, they will somewhat shift toward your perspective. And the next step is providing them with positive reinforcement. I get frustrated with people who use a grip and just use the E grip part. And they don’t get this part because they feel okay, I’ve got what I wanted. Now I can move on and do other stuff. Positive reinforcement is fundamentally fundamentally important. If you truly understand and value what emotions are, what drives us is what drives our decision making around and other people, then you’ll realize how important this step is. So after the person changes their perspective, after they shift their belief somewhat toward your perspective, you’ve got to provide them with positive reinforcement. See how difficult that is how challenging it is how much you appreciate that they shifted their perspective, it’s not easy to change your mind, it’s not easy to do it, and you really value them, you really value that our ability to do that, that’s a sign of a very powerful person, a strong person, a great leader, whatever, that whatever the context calls for, that they’re able to shift their perspective, because you got to help them shift their emotions around this issue. If they just acknowledge in the moment that you’re right, and then you don’t give them positive reinforcement, they will likely backslide on the specific issue at hand. So you got to get them to shift their emotions around this issue by giving them positive reinforcement for changing their mind. And you got to give them positive reinforcement for the matter. The matter is the broader issue. So there’s, there’s the cognition, our actual thought patterns. And there’s metacognition, how we think about our thought patterns. And metacognition here is the ability to change your mind, the cognition is whatever they change their minds on whatever they shifted. Metacognition is the ability to change their mind. And so you got to give them praise for that as well how that’s a difficult thing, hard thing to do, and so on. So, ego trip, this is the key technique to address risk nihilism in others. And again, remember within yourself, you have to learn to overcome the ostrich effect, welcome negative information and address these negative flinching away experiences within yourself. And then their standard, they happen within others as well, probably quite a bit more powerfully because they didn’t learn about this information. So that’s today’s Wise Decision Makers Show. I hope this show helps you make the wisest and most powerful, and most profitable decisions. Again, please subscribe to the show on whatever venue you’re checking it out. We have video cast in the podcast, you can check out both there are going to be in the show notes for whatever if you’re watching this on YouTube, checking this out on iTunes are in URLs of check out the show notes for the other one and the video, get the podcast, the podcast the video, click Like and share your comments. Love to hear what you think. And there’ll be much more information about the show in the notes. So check those out. All right. I look forward to seeing you next time and until then, the wisest and most profitable decisions to you, my friends. 


Transcribed by https://otter.ai 


Bio: Dr. Gleb Tsipursky is an internationally-renowned thought leader in future-proofing and cognitive bias risk management. He serves as the CEO of the boutique future-proofing consultancy Disaster Avoidance Experts, which specializes in helping forward-looking leaders avoid dangerous threats and missed opportunities. A best-selling author, he wrote 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). His writing was translated into Chinese, Korean, German, Russian, Polish, and other languages. He was featured in over 550 articles and 450 interviews in prominent venues. These include Fortune, USA Today, Inc. Magazine, CBS News, Business Insider, Government Executive, The Chronicle of Philanthropy, Time, Fast Company, and elsewhere. His expertise comes from over 20 years of consulting, coaching, and speaking and training for mid-size and large organizations ranging from Aflac to Xerox. It also comes from over 15 years in academia as a behavioral scientist, including 7 as a professor at Ohio State University. You can contact him at Gleb[at]DisasterAvoidanceExperts[dot]com, LinkedIn, Twitter @gleb_tsipursky, Instagram @dr_gleb_tsipursky, Medium @dr_gleb_tsipursky, and gain free access to his “Assessment on Dangerous Judgment Errors in the Workplace” and his “Wise Decision Maker Course” with 8 video-based modules.