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The Ten Thought Distortions Killing Your Career. And What To Do About Them.

By Angela Lane

Twice yesterday I stumbled across references to “reframing”. The first was in the New York Times bestseller, “Design Your Life”, by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, who discuss the destructive thoughts that impact our life choices. The second was decidedly more low-brow. The reference was in a popular women’s magazine, the sort you find at the check-out, discussing diets and destructive relationships with food. Despite the widely different contexts, the theme was the same: we cling to unhelpful, even harmful thoughts and these hold us back. The good news is these thoughts can be examined, challenged and “reframed” to be more helpful and positive.

My chance encounter with ‘reframing” was serendipitous and led me to reflect on the thought distortions that hold us back in our professional development. We don't apply for jobs because we think we aren't worthy. We don't speak up because we think our ideas aren't original. We pass on opportunities because we think we may fail. But the most destructive distortion, to my mind, is around our relationship with feedback.

Feedback elevates performance and makes us better human beings. But we avoid it. Instead of embracing what makes us better, destructive thoughts develop as we try to save face, or when we blow things out of proportion or when we attempt to project our thoughts and feelings on others.

Here are ten thought-distortions about feedback that might be holding you back and how you can reframe them to achieve more positive outcomes.

Saving Face

Three common thought distortions come from our need to save face. 1. Thinking “I will be embarrassed”? Our instinct is to protect our self-image. But knowledge is power. Reframe, and move from "I will be embarrassed, to “I will be informed!”

2. Believing “they don’t know me!”? True. But everything changes when we reframe the thought as “They know what they believe - and perceptions matter.” This reframing helps by engaging our rational brain. We know impressions matter. Once we move to facts, we can approach feedback more openly.

3. Moving from “and it isn’t as if they’re perfect!” to “no one's perfect! But I can improve!” makes the world of difference. Our face-saving brain loves unhelpful equivalents. This reframing makes it ok for us to take feedback from all sources, even imperfect ones, in the service of our growth. Catastrophizing

The next category of thought distortion is catastrophizing. It is all about losing perspective, only believing the worst and exaggerating unreasonably.

4. “I’ll have to change everything!” This thought distortion sees us fall into the trap of “all or nothing” thinking. With that comes powerlessness which can be overwhelming. Reframe it as“I’ll know what to change … if I chose to!" and look at what happens. This reframing gives us agency. Armed with helpful insight, I have the power to decide what I do next.

5. Ever think “this feedback will confirm I’m no good at my job!” We are prone to catastrophize. Right-sizing our challenges, and keeping perspective make any subsequent learning opportunity manageable. Reframe as “this feedback will confirm that there are some aspects of my job I can improve”. With this framing, I am better placed to improve my performance and support my career. 6. “Feedback doesn’t work anyway. So what’s the point?” This is a form of distorted thinking which throws out the baby, the bathwater and the bath! You may think that living without feedback is ok. Nothing major has happened so far, right? Right - no major improvement! Replace this thought with “Feedback is information that makes me better. It’s hard to improve without it.” So, why wouldn't you want some?


Projecting is attributing thoughts or motives to others, and in the case of feedback, to avoid a situation or issue.

7. Avoiding feedback because “they don’t like me…”? Giving feedback isn’t easy. We do it when we care about people or outcomes. Or both. You can reframe "they don't like me", to assume positive intent, or at the very least, reframe so that you don't let the intention of others get in the way of your growth. Reframe with “they care enough to tell me and I care enough to listen”. Inspiring! 8. Worried that “If I ask, they’ll think I am needy.” Are you worried about what others will think? Research confirms that we occupy a lot less of the thoughts of others than we might imagine. Dr Deb Knobelman reminds us, “when you feel judged, it’s because you are judging yourself.” So ask, do I think I'm needy? If the answer is “no”, then reframe. Why not think “if I ask appropriately, they’ll think I am serious about being great at what I do”. And, actually, people love giving advice.

9. Thinking “I know what they’ll say anyway!” As a practitioner, I hear this a lot and it is an example of where reframing can be really helpful. Because if I hear feedback and I could have anticipated it, it is confirming. That probably means I should work on it! And if I hear feedback that I haven’t heard before? Let's agree it’s an insight. And I should probably work on it! So reframe "I know what they’ll say“ and replace it with "I will confirm what they think”.

10. Believe “they won’t tell me the truth”? Most people don’t have political or other nefarious reasons which would cause them to lie. The most likely distortion is being fobbed off with an “it's all good” or a sugar-coated substitute. But even so, you aren’t worse off with the feedback. And after all, if you are still sceptical, you can always validate with others. Reframe as “I trust them to do the right thing.”

Don't Let Your Career Be A Victim To Your thoughts

The ability to observe our thoughts, identify poor patterns and reframe the situation is a life skill. Whether negative thoughts prevent us from designing a meaningful life, reducing a dress size, or embracing the feedback that will see us grow and prosper in our career, getting a grip on our thoughts is a habit worth building.

Mental reframing will make you want more feedback. Getting fair feedback helps you develop and grow, and the virtuous circle repeats. Tune in to our podcast episode for tips on How To Ask for the Feedback You Need. And go. Build the career you deserve.

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed here are the author’s and don't represent the opinions of any other organization or institution. Photo by pine watt on Unsplash.

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