Are You Deluding Yourself? Accountability and Self-Deception

In the second in our series on accountability, let’s talk about the fascinating topic of self-deception.

Simply, self-deception is not being able to see that we are part of the problem. For instance, think about the most difficult person you’ve ever had to work with. Stop and get this person clearly in your mind, and then answer this question: “Did they consider themselves the problem?”

When I ask this question in my Improving Relationships and Getting Results Through Accountability workshops, the answer from attendees is always a resounding — “No!” So what does this tell us? If even this “most difficult person we’ve ever worked with” didn’t recognize they were a part of the problem, we might not see our part in things either. Most if not all “people problems” share this common root: self-deception. Most people believe they are quite innocent, trying really hard–and other people aren’t. As Alice Munro famously wrote, “Life would be grand if it weren’t for the people.” Even though humorous, this saying illustrates the common misconception that it’s other people, not ourselves, who are making us miserable.

Another way to say this is that we often have an oversimplified view of situations. We tend to have the mindset, “What I am doing is good; what you are doing is bad.” I heard a simple but classic example of this on the news recently. A study reported that 90% of people surveyed view themselves in the top 10% of drivers. This is exactly what we’re talking about! Most of us see ourselves as innocent and doing better than others, and see the other guy as the one at fault. And in our minds and our conversations, our tendency is to downplay our negative part in an event, and overstate our positive contribution. (If you don’t already recognize this in yourself, just watch yourself in difficult situations; we all do it.)

This discrepancy between how we see ourselves and how we see others is a principal cause of problems in our relationships. An excellent, classic book on this topic that will change your personal as well as professional life is Leadership & Self Deception by the Arbinger Institute.

The bottom line to remember about accountability and self-deception (and a key to a happier life and better work results) is that it’s not the other person. The solution to people problems always begins with ourselves.

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