Is ignorance addictive?

Did you ever make a decision that turned out to be wrong? We all have.

I’d bet that if someone had pointed out the error shortly after your decision you would have virulently defended it.

Why is it that we feel it necessary to defend our decisions even if we are not being attacked, but just asked?

In certain circumstances, being questioned will actually sound to us like an attack.

Once we start down this path, it becomes increasingly hard to go back and admit a mistake. In this way, being wrong and defending it becomes like an addiction.

End of the World

There was a great example of this last year. Do you remember the end of the world?

The evangelical Oakland, CA, radio minister Harold Camping predicted the end of the world would start May 21, 2011, and wrap up October 21, 2011.

In his first radio broadcast since his doomsday prediction failed to pan out, the preacher insisted his was an error of interpretation, not fact.

He explained that he and his followers had been warning for months that on May 21 a select 2 to 3 percent of the world’s population would be taken to heaven. Those left behind would face months of tribulation before perishing in the Earth’s destruction, which, Camping said would happen on October 21.

“We think that judgment day did happen,” he said.

Cognitive Dissonance

In psychology, this type of situation is called cognitive dissonance. This concept is fascinating and very relevant to maintenance decisions.

In cognitive dissonance, people will go to great lengths to avoid the discomfort they feel when faced with two thoughts about themselves that contradict.

If the decision you made turns out to be ill-advised, and especially if it reflects poorly in an area you feel yourself competent or even expert, you will suffer from cognitive dissonance.

Once you defend your decision the first time, the defensiveness builds and seems to take on a life of its own.

You may be surprised to know that the defensive conversation that starts the ball rolling can take place entirely inside your own head.

For example, a fleet manager buys a new car. When asked how he likes it, how do you think he will usually answer?

To admit the vehicle is a disappointment is to admit he might not be as smart a car buyer as he thought. So, he loves the new car.

Avoid the Discomfort

People will tenaciously stick to poor decisions to avoid the discomfort of the contradiction.

Say I am driving with my girlfriend and we are lost. She says we should stop for directions. I say no, I will work this out.

Ever have this conversation?

What I am really saying to her is that I feel very competent in finding my way around. Asking for directions means that I have no clue where I am, much less how to get to where we’re headed.

These two contradictory thoughts cause me discomfort. I strike out angrily to push the contradiction away.

The Real Issue

In the fleet garage, decisions are made all the time. The bulk of them are reasonably good, so there is no dissonance.

It is the decisions that cause us to question ourselves that cause the problem.

When you find yourself feeling defensive and defending your decision, just stop and think. Ask yourself: Am I wedded to this decision, or am I wedded to my view of myself that the decision represents?

The next time you find yourself defending a decision, consider the real reason you are defending that decision.

Joel Levitt has trained more than 6,000 maintenance leaders from more than 3,000 organizations. Since 1980, he has been the president of Springfield Resources, a management consulting firm that services a variety of clients on a wide range of maintenance issues.