Learned helplessness

“Learned helplessness is the giving-up reaction, the quitting response that follows from the belief that whatever you do doesn’t matter.”
Arnold Schwarzenegger

A winning team suddenly finds that losses are mounting and criticism rising and with loud critical chants the team is unable to find a way to win again.  Confidence declines along with momentum needed to be successful.

Losing sets in motion a feeling of being out of control which increases the sense of powerlessness.  A self-defeating attitude begins to reign and results decline.

In organizations the losing streak causes people to withdraw with the best ideas being left out of the conversation.   Secrecy starts to increase and managers retreat to their own turf to protect their concerns.   Individuals sense the shift in openness and pull back in fear that they will become the next scapegoat.   Organizational momentum declines further causing managers to take steps that cause people to retreat  even further in isolation.

Learned helplessness occurs when people in an organization believe there is nothing they can do to make a difference.   Performance spirals downward.   Communication and respect for others decreases and people fall back on primitive self-protection behaviors.  

Organizations start to fall into the losing loop when leaders become arrogant and overconfident and stop listening to the issues that are being surfaced.   Unreasonable expectations by management and the denying the issues that are being presented increase the rate of failure.  

To reverse learned helplessness organizational communications have to be open and more frequent.  It takes large doses of listening to break the negative spiral and a strong commitment to hear whatever is being said, not to just hear the words, but to acknowledge the issues that are brought up.  If fear cannot be quelled productivity and loss will continue to mount.

Where do you see fear in organizations?

Have you experienced learned helplessness?

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