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We human beings can be clever souls and there’s no end to the number of ways we find to avoid addressing problems. In last week’s post I talked about “externalization” and how people use “externalisation” as a mechanism to avoid blame. While avoiding blame is important to some people I think part of the reason humans use externalization is that it also dodges the need to address problems.

Rationalization is another common method used to achieve the same goal. For a whole host of reasons human beings have a tendency to like to avoid both change and conflict. Why do today what you can ignore or put off until tomorrow? Rationalization is key mechanism we use to get ourselves off the hook. Even though there may be clear indications that problems exist and those issues may be seriously affecting our lives, we often rationalize the symptoms away rather than deal with the problem.

Rationalization comes in a number of forms. Among the techniques people use are; finding ways to explain the problem in such a way that it appears there really is no problem, downplaying the issue or convincing ourselves that even though there had been a problem in the past the future will somehow be different. Unfortunately, all such techniques are really just smokescreens to help us avoid dealing with the problem. Move on everyone, nothing to see here. Problem, no, no, there’s no problem, keep moving everyone please.

Having worked in the project environment for most of my career and having made a special study of project failures, it’s interesting to me how often problems were known about early in the project, but no one dealt with the issue. Even though the issues may have surfaced early the rationalization mechanism quickly kicks in to smother any possibility of the issue being addressed. Unfortunately a problem ignored is not a problem solved and such problems often fester in the corner until they overflow into a host of manifestations.

Such behaviours while achieving the short term goal of avoiding the need to deal with problems simply creates a bigger problem for us to deal with tomorrow. Those later problems are then dealt with using externalization and we have neatly avoided the need to either deal with the problem or accept blame. I’ve seen organizations allow problems to fester for years using a combination of these two techniques.

This pattern of destructive behaviour is a little silly because many problems are often not as difficult to deal with as we might think. Often we can find ways to address problems and what looked like a painful issue that might give rise to disagreement or conflict turns out to have relatively simple solutions. In addition you really can get better at dealing with problems simply by practicing. As for any skill the starting point for improvement lies in practicing the skill. If we could simply refocus the energy we waste externalizing, rationalizing and firefighting many projects that end up in the failed column could easily move over to the success column.

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