People Conveniently Forget Their Worst Behavior
We see people do it often, yet we might also be doing it; becoming foggy minded about questionable or selfish behavior and the negative impact it has on other people, as well as on our name.
In his article, “Unethical Amnesia’ Explains Why People Conveniently Forget Their Awful Behavior,” Drake Baer writes for “The Cut” about the work of Maryam Kouchaki, a Northwestern University professor and Francesca Gino, a Harvard Business School professor.
The two organizational psychologists learned from their nine experiments, (2,100 participants) “that recalling unsavory actions causes ‘psychological discomfort,’ so people have fuzzier memories of the bad things they’ve done.”
We don’t like to feel poorly about ourselves, even if it’s an accurate finding about our unsavory thinking and actions, because it makes us face who we are or at least who we are being or have been in times when we were not our best selves.
We choose convenience and what serves our psychology. We prefer self-interest and resist owning what we’re doing. We know it, we just bury it.
The term that Kouchaki and Gino use is “unethical amnesia.” What does that mean? If we’re not rationalizing our behavior and low-level character, we are helping our minds forget it.
“Well, how convenient,” some might think.
This reaction to what we’re doing is not only clearly unethical, it serves a self-serving purpose psychologically. This “amnesia,” Baer’s article reports, “acts like an ‘adaptive defensive behavior,’ helping our egos sidestep unpleasant truths.”
Defensive. Helping our egos. Sidestep unpleasant truths.
Ouch. Yet that’s what the research has revealed and determined. What can we learn from these findings to prevent ourselves (because we can’t control others) from conducting ourselves in this manner?
First, realize it’s possible for human beings to act this way. Second, know that we often do realize that what we’re doing is wrong but we struggle to stop it because we’re caught up in intense negative emotions that are not being managed with healthy, effective stress management. Thus, we’re giving into strong impulses to do what we should not be doing.
If we’re going to improve, we have to learn how to develop a higher level of competency in nuanced stress management, which will help us reframe our thinking, beliefs and attitudes so we can help control our self-serving impulses and behavior.
Some people and organizations don’t care about the quality of their character or they grossly evaluate the quality of it. Of course, their name and reputation suffers.
When we learn to do differently and better, our name, human interactions, relationships (personal, professional and with everyone) and reputation will improve.
We will be exercising admirable skills and showing strength, no longer doing what is selfish. We will be responding mindfully, maturely and wisely and thus, beneficially.
Michael Toebe is a founder and communications and reputation specialist for disputes, conflicts, crisis and scandal. He serves individuals and organizations at both Reputation Quality and Reputation Interviews.