Understanding Cognitive Distortions in the Workplace

By: Louis Chesney

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As we recognize the importance of Mental Health Awareness Month, a topic that does not get enough coverage, even though it is universal, is cognitive distortions. From time to time, we experience errors in thinking that generally upset us due to how we process and think about situations that happen to us. These errors in thinking are called cognitive distortions.

In other words, cognitive distortions are simply ways our mind convinces us of something not true. These inaccurate or exaggerated thoughts brought on by stress and anxiety usually reinforce negative thinking or emotions. Telling negative things to ourselves that sound rational and accurate only keeps us feeling bad about ourselves and makes us appear irrational to others.

Unfortunately, the unprecedented uncertainty and unrest of the pandemic resulted in an increased prevalence of cognitive distortions that may have had a dramatic effect on your workforce. This stressful and anxious time may have led to harmful thinking and employees’ inaccurate assessments of workplace situations. They can damage mental health and personal or working relationships and hurt productivity if not supported.

Summary of 10 common cognitive distortions and how they can impact your workforce:

All or nothing thinking: You view a situation, a person, or an event in “either-or” terms, fitting them into only two extreme categories instead of on a continuum. “My boss made edits because I cannot write anything intelligible.”

Catastrophizing: You predict the future in negative terms and believe that what will happen will be so awful that you will not be able to stand it. “When we lose the major client, we’ll have to shut down the business.”

Discounting the positive: You disqualify positive experiences or events, insisting that they do not count. “I know I got this job because no one else would take it.”

Emotional reasoning: You believe your emotions reflect reality and let them guide your attitudes and judgments. “My feelings tell me my boss dislikes me, so it must be true.”

Magnification/minimization: You evaluate yourself, others, and situations, placing greater importance on the negatives and/or placing much less importance on the positives. “I was seriously considered for a promotion but snubbed because I’m not good enough.”

Mental filter: You pay attention to one or a few details and fail to see the whole picture. “I missed one deadline. And that is enough. No one will ever count on me.”

Mind reading: You believe that you know the thoughts or intentions of others (or that they know your thoughts or intentions) without having sufficient evidence. “My boss thinks I’m incompetent and doesn’t tell me the truth.”

Overgeneralization: You take isolated negative cases and generalize them, transforming them in a never-ending pattern, by repeatedly using words such as “always,” “never,” “ever,” “whole,” “entire,” etc. “I never got a response from the prospect. That shows I will never make a sale.”

Should statements: You tell yourself that events, people’s behaviors, and one’s own attitudes “should” be the way you expected them to be and not as they really are. “I should have been a better manager.”

Jumping to conclusions: You draw conclusions (negative or positive) from little or no confirmatory evidence. “I was excluded from the conference call. So, it is obvious. I am getting fired.”

Fortunately, employees can notice and judge their thinking before behaving in a way that appears irrational to their colleagues, managers, and direct reports. Here are some tips to help employees who may be struggling with unhealthy thinking:

  • Find a quiet place at home or in the office
  • Write down what made you feel upset and visualize what was happening at the time
  • Explore the situation deeper
  • Review your thinking against the list of cognitive distortions
  • Challenge your thinking based on facts
  • Find what you can change
  • Ask for support

To learn more about the new RethinkCare platform, request a demo.

Louis Chesney

Louis is a Product Manager at RethinkCare, overseeing the day-to-day operations and expansion of RethinkCare’s diversity & inclusion course content and training approach. Louis began working at Rethink in 2020 and specializes in supporting and advocating for the equitable treatment of neurodiverse individuals and other marginalized groups in sectors such as race, gender, gender identity, and orientation. Louis also represents RethinkCare on three Disability:IN committees. Before joining RethinkCare, Louis started a hiring program for individuals with neurodiverse conditions such as autism at a global technology company. He continually aims to make a positive impact on those who are underserved. As an individual who experienced social anxiety related to speaking first-hand, Louis inspires and actively contributes to the current work. He is the co-author of “ECHO: A Vocal Language Program for Easing Anxiety in Conversation,” a Plural Publishing book designed to help older children and teens needing social communication support. Louis obtained a bachelor of science degree in finance from Saint John’s University.

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