Justifying Inaction with Negative Fantasies
By Francie Dalton
make a suggestion and encounter only negative responses? Ever
caught yourself responding to the ideas of others (or even to your
own ideas!) with the same "impossibility" thinking? Whether
from weariness, fear, or the lure of complacency, we're all
sometimes guilty of not taking initiative when it's appropriate to
do so. Here are the 5 negative fantasies or myths we use to try to
justify inaction, along with suggestions for out-thinking and
Nothing is Wrong: Preferring not to look under the covers, this
one is usually heard when some form of assessment is suggested. If
measuring customer satisfaction is suggested, the response is: “But
our customers must be happy because they aren’t complaining”; if an
employee survey is suggested, the response is “But our employees
must be happy because turnover is low”. In response to suggestions
that 360-degree leadership assessments be done, you'll hear: “But
our quality of management must be good because what needs to get
done is getting done”; or “We must be doing well because profits are
up, dividends are being paid, etc.”. The fundamental premise here
is that there is no apparent reason to assess, so why assess?
discredit this myth, begin with the observation that absence of
evidence isn’t evidence of absence! We can’t manage what we don’t
know, and no one is in a position of omnipotence. Just like
preventive medicine costs less than medical treatment, it is better
to be proactive than reactive. We must ferret out risk; identify
vulnerabilities while they can still be prevented. The alternative
is post-impact damage control.
that if nothing is wrong, then that's all the more reason assess!
Being able to provide employees/shareholders/customers with
documented evidence of just how great everything is will be a great
Something is Wrong, but Shhhhh! Typically propounded by those
who don't cope well with any form of confrontation, this myth
typically sounds something like: “No one is screaming at the
moment, and we aren’t suffering any consequences at the moment, so
even though we know that something is wrong, let’s let sleeping dogs
lie. And besides... who wants to be the one to point out that
something is wrong?
of such faulty logic. It’s like trying to justify never getting a
physical check-up because you’re not sick at the moment, or never
taking your car in for service because it's running just fine right
best way to debunk this myth is to acknowledge that the prospect of
knowing the truth can indeed be frightening. However, as in the
medical arena, early diagnosis always increases the likelihood of
recovery, and usually reduces the cost of treatment.
Nothing will Change Anyway: This is the voice of the
defeatist. “We’ve tried to initiate change before, but we
always get shot down, so it’s clear that our leadership doesn’t want
to change. In fact, we tried advocating change once several years
ago, and nothing ever came of it.”
true. Nothing will change - unless and until someone decides to
step up to the plate and advocate strongly for what “should be”.
Someone must be willing to become the internal champion. If that
person isn’t you, who within your organization might you approach to
discuss taking on this role?
Alternatively, don't hesitate to start by taking a few baby steps.
Initiate change in one department or one subsidiary, or collaborate
with your colleagues to pool your resources, and inaugurate change
in just one topical area. It’s hard to justify doing nothing when
several people who want to improve are in alignment about the need
It’ll cost too much Money: Seemingly a very reliable excuse. I
daresay that absolutely any initiative can be totally
squelched by the voice that says: “Our budget is tight and we
just don’t have the financial resources.”
this may be accurate, it's all too often a myth that's offered as an
excuse to halt needed change. When this is the case, the following
suggestions may help expose or at least circumvent the myth.
could the cost elements involved in the suggested change straddle
two different fiscal years? Or, could some of the necessary steps
be completed by internal personnel rather than using a vendor? Could
a bartering arrangement be negotiated with the vendor for a reduced
fee or for in-kind services?
Finally, without dishonoring the very real need to wisely disperse
scarce resources among competing needs, it's possible that the old
axiom: “pay now, or pay more later” could be a sufficiently
Transition at the Top is Imminent: As an excuse for not taking
on any new initiatives, this one is almost unbeatable: “Our
President is about to leave; now isn't the right time for us to
undertake anything new - not until the transition has taken place."
fact, quite the contrary could be true. Conducting assessments
before leaving the big chair demonstrates a fiduciary commitment to
the organization; and the one who’ll be taking over will appreciate
having information that will flatten the learning curve and help in
prioritizing new initiatives.
than being deflated, disabled, or demoralized by these myths, learn
to recognize them for what they are - negative fantasies created
to justify inaction - and learn to refute them by using the
counterarguments provided here. In doing so, you'll become one of
the very few who can successfully steward forward movement in
organizations rife with negativity.
Read other articles and learn more
about Francie Dalton.
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