Years ago as a software engineer, I received a call from a clearly frustrated client about the custom software we had built and deployed at her company. The conversation went like this…

“That sounds like a serious problem we need to resolve immediately. So the system won’t even launch or display any screens?” 

“This new software does not work! I don’t know what we are going to do! This is a huge problem!”

“No, it will launch and display the screen, but it is all messed up.”

“Please tell me more about your exact problem. Is it crashing? Freezing up? Do you have any error messages?”

“My report does not have the right total at the bottom.”

“We need to get that corrected. How else is it failing?”

“Just that total, really.”

 Wow. A calculation error becomes total failure. That is a great example of a classic cognitive distortion, Magnification. With its mirror twin, Minimization, Magnification alters how we process and interact with the world.

“Making a mountain out of a molehill” isn’t simply a harmless attitude of over-vigilance, it is an intentional distortion of reality, and it’s potentially destructive.

Minimization is probably more dangerous, however, because believing a large problem is small will render you completely unprepared when the issue becomes too big to ignore, usually long after serious damage has been done. (Distinguished from the mental filter Denial, Minimization involves admitting to a problem but not to its actual or probable impact, while someone in denial does not even acknowledge a problem.)

Both of these cognitive distortions are common and, to a degree, normal. It is when they dominate our thinking and impact how we interact with others that they become serious problems.

Of course we are all familiar with these challenges in our personal relationships, too.

“She only hits me when she is really upset. It’s not her fault.”

 What???? This is an unfortunately all-too common minimization that allows spousal abuse to continue. Ignore the problem and maybe it will go away. Others create financial problems by minimizing the effect of improper (or lack of) budgeting, high-interest loans or inadequate savings. To quote Dr. Phil, “How’s that working out for you?”

If we can’t answer that question with honesty and accuracy, we are setting ourselves up for failure. It’s only a matter of time.


About the Author

Glenn S. Phillips works with leaders who want to leverage technology and understand risks within. An author and blogger, Glenn is often quoted in national media, plays a really ugly tuba (it even has a bullet hole) and is a fan of dark chocolate and great puns.