This is a term used to describe a state when a person holds two conflicting thoughts / ideas / beliefs / values etc. The core beliefs people hold can be extremely strong and may create a estrangement of thoughts, that, under stress, can co-exist. An example is smokers. They smoke, and on a rational / logical / intellectual level, understand that it is bad for you (cognition). This conflict (dissonance) resides, albeit uncomfortably, in their psyche. It is this discomfort that people feel when allowing contradictory thoughts to inhabit that creates schisms. The usual approach is to create excuses / reasoning to not accept the opposing /contradictory information.
If their beliefs are based in truth, or are simply misguided convictions, it does not matter. It is the basic discord created by these conflicting thoughts that is interesting. That such divergent viewpoints could exist in the same space is in itself amazing. Extreme stress can occur as well as guilt, and time spent on justifications / legitimizing their stance.
This brings us to the cognitive dissonance in our day to day lives:
- Wearing a mask in times of COVID-19, but not believing in its efficacy.
- Smoking while being aware of its negative impact on your health.
- Breaking your diet and justifying it by thinking about all the walking done today.
- Difficulty in believing that one of your role models is being implicated in some wrongdoing & justifying it with conspiracy theories or being framed or……
- You are environmentally aware but use plastic bags at the supermarket.
- Your boss asking you to do something you don’t like, but you do it anyway.
- Reading this article even though you are aware that it’s a delaying tactic for real work that is pending for sometime now .
Simply put, its your beliefs clashing with your actions.
Scientific evidence, tangible / quantifiable research, Visual confirmation, informed decisions made on newly (to you) unearthed facts/data/information that dispels your current beliefs/ perspective / perception. Does it work? The answer is: yes. If you have an open mind and are flexible in your approach and don’t make excuses or try to legitimize your opinions, its possible.
Although the adage goes something like this: “It is the mark of an educated mind to entertain a thought without accepting it“ (at times, attributed to Aristotle), interestingly our minds are creatures of habit, as well as very creative at finding support and justifications for ideas / values / perspectives we believe in.
Guilt may be a part of this feeling, and, it can bring forth positive results, not necessarily negative ones. But stress and guilt do factor heavily in these circumstances. The idea would be to align the two divergent thoughts and bring them onto the same platform. Choose.
Now bringing this into the realm of day to day workforce management:
This is where values must align (Organizational & individual), ethics must play its part, fairplay and justice must be practiced and genuine/authentic leadership must prevail. People should never have to choose between right and being let go. Pressure of any kind to go against their values and beliefs etc. should not be exerted, and, empathy, value alignment, ethics and justice must reign supreme.
Just like ego, no one is immune from cognitive dissonance. Like the saying goes, “There are two types of egoists in this world, ones who admit it, and the rest of us”. Similarly, we are all affected by cognitive dissonance in one way or the other. Our judgements and decisions are impacted by it and as long as we learn to recognize it, we can harness its boundless potential to make us grow.
Ask why. Question your decisions and see the divergence for what it is: An opportunity to grow, expand our horizons and become adept at reaching these decisions based on judgements made with a clear vision.
Ask why. Clarify. Grow.
Uzair Hassan / Aug 2020 / Uzair.firstname.lastname@example.org / 0097150-6228126