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The Master Facilitator Journal | Issue #0039| February 5, 2002
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Recognize and Intervene on "Distorted Thinking" - Part I.

Irrational or distorted thinking blocks authentic communication, the source of cooperation, understanding and effective solutions.


Distorted thinking can and does impact effective communication and thus should be identified and corrected to improve group process. Albert Ellis identified 15 common modes of distorted thinking in his work with Rational Emotive Thinking. We will share the first of these in this issue and follow up with the remainder next week.


1. Filtering
Distortion is characterized by looking at only one element of a situation to the exclusion of everything else. The single detail is picked out and the whole event is then colored by this detail.

People tend to have their specific focus when looking for the detail to color their perceptions. Depressed people tend to focus on the loss and become blind to any positive that may exist in the situation. Others, prone to anxiety select the danger, and those that tend to be angry tend to see only the injustice.

The process of remembering can also be selective. Recalling only the negative creates a tendency to be angry, anxious, or depressed. The filtering process causes people to magnify and awfulize. The end result is all fears and losses become exaggerated in importance. Key words for filtering are: terrible, awful, disgusting, horrendous.

2. Polarized thinking
Characterized by a dichotomous view of the world. Tendency is to see everything in extremes with little room for the middle ground. People and things are either good, bad, wonderful, awful, black or white. There is no gray. Reactions to events tend to swing from one emotional extreme to another. The impact is to judge self and others in the extreme. There is no room for mistakes. If leaders are not perfect then they are useless.

3. Over generalization
In this distorted mode of thinking, one makes broad, generalized conclusions based on a single incident or piece of evidence. Often over generalizations are couched in absolute statements. Typical statements are "I'll never trust management again," "nobody is capable of getting this done but me," "I always have to do everything around here." Words such as all.. .every.. .none.. .never. . .always... everybody. ..nobody are cues of when someone is over generalizing.

4. Mind reading
One is doing this when they make snap judgments about others. Mostly people are making assumptions about others motivations, feelings, and attitudes when the are employing this distorted thinking style. Often mind reading assumptions are based on projections, or self attributes that we prefer to not admit or own. We may focus on someone's lateness but overlook our own tendency towards the same problem. We jump to conclusions without collecting more data to verify the reality. As well we tend to overlook our own attributions and attribute personal experience to others.

5. Catastrophizing
In this style one takes a small piece of evidence, then expands and dramatizes it to the extreme. A small mistake means you'll never be promoted, a moderate rating means that you'll be RIF'ed, a fight means that the relationship is over. Catastrophizing can be contagious as the emotional reactiveness spreads across those closely associated.

6. Personalization
The tendency to relate everything around you to yourself. This can be either negative or positive in the sense that you consider "any success as a result of your contribution," or "any failure is certainly your fault." Comments made by others are interpreted in a personal manner. The boss says "we're falling behind on this project" in a meeting and the personalizer is convinced that he is talking about them. Each experience or conversation is interpreted as a clue to your personal worth or value.

7. Control Fallacies
Their are two ways this can go. You either see yourself as helpless and externally controlled, or as omnipotent and responsible for everyone around you.

Feeling externally controlled keeps you stuck: "They are doing it to you." Failing to take any personally responsibility tends to keep one stuck in helplessness and leads to serious depression. Focusing on only those things that are beyond your control contributes to this style of thinking.

When one feels responsible for everything and everyone around them there is a tendency to feel the weight of the world on their shoulders. Everyone is depending on you, you cannot make mistakes, and you have to right all wrongs. Failure to live up to these notions creates guilt as well as an exaggerated sense of power.


Your assignment this week is to survey this list and select your own most favorite distorted thinking mode. Then brainstorm a new action you can practice to correct it. We'd love to hear your perspective on this important subject.  Please email your comments to us.

Skill Related Resource
A Guide to Rational Living, by Albert Ellis 

Albert Ellis is the grand-daddy of modern psychology, and this book is the classic. While many psychologists and authors focus on one or several "pet techniques," in this book, Ellis  shows you how to adapt an integrated set of rational (cognitive), emotive, and behavioral tools to your personal situations. Ellis writes this and many of his other books for us non- psychologists. 

The book starts by briefly summarizing the results of Ellis' ground-breaking work on what we do that causes us to feel and behave differently than we want. The author then teaches his general cognitive system...which includes very specific instructions...on how to change these feelings, behaviors, and thoughts. Ellis terms this system the "A, B, C, D" method of "disputing" irrational thoughts that are "irrational" because they: (i) are not true and (ii) produce results that we don't want. The book then moves beyond this general system and shows you how to easily use cognitive, emotive, and behavioral tools to effectively stop your unwanted patterns. While the methods are extremely user-friendly, they do require work...beyond the reading. 

If you know someone who might benefit and enjoy this newsletter, please send this link to a friend.

picture of Steve Davis, editor of the Master Facilitator Journal.

About the Author: 
Steve Davis is a Business and Life Coach facilitating others to reach  their full potential in their business and personal lives. Please email your stories, comments, suggestions, and ideas. Or call me at 800-216-3854. I'd love to hear from you. If you find this newsletter helpful, please forward it to your friends. Thanks for reading! 

In the Spotlight

High Impact Communications
Become One of the New Communicators
by Bert Decker 
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They get ahead because they connect.

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Public speaking expert Bert Decker is on the cutting edge of interpersonal communications. And High Impact Communications is his report from the front.

Using real-life examples of the “New Communicators” (such as Norman Schwarzkopf, Jane Pauley, Lee Iacocca) in action, Bert Decker takes you step by step through the process of how they do it. And how you can strengthen your audience appeal.

Today’s New Communicators understand that people buy on emotion and justify with fact. That silent messages are as effective as spoken ones. And that charisma isn’t something you’re born with, it’s something you must practice.

Bert Decker explains that there are actually two parts of the brain involved in the speaking/listening process – the New Brain, the rational cerebral cortex, and the First Brain, the non-rational, emotional gatekeeper through which all information must pass in order to reach the “thinking” New Brain.

Communicating with the First Brain is the overlooked key to making lasting personal contact with whatever audience you address, be it one person or a room full of people. It is the listener’s First Brain, in fact, that makes the decision whether or not to trust or believe a speaker.

Along the way, you’ll learn:
• breakthrough techniques for reaching your listener’s First Brain
• 4 principles of visualization
• 6 voice-strengthening exercises
• the function and importance of “grokking”
• why you can’t let comfort be your guide
• the vital function humor plays in the communications process
• how to make eye contact, posture and gestures work for you
• how to utilize the awesome power of video cybernetics

You can quickly become a master of all of this – and more. By listening to and practicing the techniques in High Impact Communication, the persuasive force of the New Communicators can be yours.

Click Here to Order.

Thank you for reading this issue of the Master Facilitator Journal.  Look for your next issue on February 12, 2002. 


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