Bringing CBT into the boardroom (tackling toxic culture):

dreamstime_5576392Is it true that companies and organisations can develop attitudes and beliefs and behaviours that are not helpful? That foster upsettness and poor choices of action? That are not compatible with good communications? That give poor outcomes?

Yes. Yes it is.

We all know of workplaces that are accused of having ‘a toxic culture’. Workplaces that inspire comments like:

‘it comes from the top down’
‘you could join as a starry eyed idealist, but they’d knock that out of you’,
‘they’re impossible to deal with’

This post aims to address that with a solution…

Such toxicity can be low, moderate or high – sometimes the problem is that your workplace has to deal with and manage communications with other workplaces that have such cultures and behaviours – sometimes it’s your own workplace that is veering towards that culture – and sometimes it’s your own workplace that has that culture embedded – whatever the case, there is practical learning that will teach skills and tools to understand and manage challenging people and events in a smart way, and also to recognise and examine and change our own unhelpful attitudes and behaviours when required – in a fast intervention way that is very accessible and doable.

manwritingworkshopSolution: there is a strong case to be made for taking therapy out of the counselling rooms and into the boardrooms (be it government, public service institutions, organisations, companies or institutions). I don’t mean ‘psychoanalysis’! Though I’m sure many social scientists would love to be commissioned to do a study of origins, and how a particular vicious circle developed and consumed, and that those studies would be fascinating – but, no, I’m suggesting the very practical and pragmatic Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), as it is a ‘rational thinking skills’ psycho-educational model that can be learned and applied through simple structures, with practical skills and tools that can be applied immediately, and that can become an intrinsic part of management into the future.

CBT is concerned with NOW, TODAY, rather than addressing the past or navel gazing endlessly. It’s core theory is that it is not an event or situation, (no matter how challenging), that is the direct cause of a person’s upsettness and behaviours, but rather that it is:

  • the person’s JUDGEMENT of the event
  • the person’s thoughts and beliefs about the event
  • the meaning and significance the person assigns to the event.

The same thing could happen to twenty people, but they would all feel and behave in a unique way in response to it, depending on their perception … (The event influences, the cognitive and emotional cause.)

CBT will teach you to understand and manage your perceptions and consequential behaviours in a clear calm way – which gives the ability to self regulate emotions.

This theory has been proven and measured, and CBT is the worlds leading psychotherapy, an evidence based psychotherapy – with simple strategies and structures that teach us how to:

  • Recognise and build awareness of when our thinking is distorted and negative and not based on facts.
  • To understand and accept when (and how, and why) we are using one of the common unhelpful thinking habits that human beings are primally wired up for.
  • Recognise when our thoughts and beliefs are causing us innapropriate upsettness.
  • Recognise when our upsettness (emotional and phyiscal) leads to emotional reasoning instead of rational reasoning.
  • Recognise when emotional reasoning causes us self limiting or self sabotaging behaviour.
  • Examine and challenge and change the distorted thinking to evidence based alternative replacements that fit the facts.
  • Choose alternative behaviours that will give better outcomes.

These changes have the effect of  lessening upset, (literally being happier and calmer and cooler), and influencing more productive and rational choices of behaviours – which will make for better outcomes. And these changes will positively affect both internal and external ‘politics’ and outcomes. What’s not to like?

Here’s an example of what I mean:

Event Team Thoughts/beliefs Emotional Behavioural
Your team is meeting with a supplier/distributor team to persuade them to grant your company an exclusive contract. This lot love the power they have over us.They love lording it over us and watching us grovel.I don’t like them.They’re horrible people.They don’t respect us, if they did they wouldn’t put us through this crap.They prefer our rivals.There’s no way we’re getting this contract, we’re wasting our time.We’ll have to go in at a super low margin as a first proposal, even if just to screw the rival.This is a disaster.What’s the point?! Anxious
Sick feeling in stomach
Too much oxygen
Not at all relaxed.Conducting the meeting in a stiff formal way.Showing physical discomfort.Not engaging in ‘social niceties’ or getting to know the distributor teamPanic into immediately proposing a tiny margin take in return for a contract
What would be the outcome of this kind of attitude and behaviour?Are your team mystic meg fortune tellers with the added superpower of mind reading? If your team have decided that these thoughts and beliefs are 100% true and evidence based, then what’s the point in them being in the room at all? Will they be able to focus and prepare with enthusiasm if they’ve decided ‘there’s no point’ even before the meeting? Are there alternative de-personalised more neutral (more true!) ways to view this? Are there different behaviours that would bring a better outcome? Was there any critical thinking and challenge applied to these views before the meeting? Were these views even known and understood before the meeting? Or does everything just happen as you go along… with emotional reasoning ruling the day?
CBT skills can help to prevent or cure this … think about it…

Most of the top executive ‘how-to’ management books and training assume that the executive is starting from a position of rationality and good psychological health, and indeed that the staff they manage are emotionally healthy too – this is an ERROR. Those books and training can have high value, but the value can only be accessed when there is a base of good psychological health and wellbeing in the first place, and when rational thinking skills are being applied to general thinking and communications and behaviour. CBT can provide a great foundation to make the most out of other personal and practical professional and personal development training.

Training is available in either one to one sessions for individuals, or flexible module workshops tailored to fit the client.  Note: this training is not group therapy, it is personal development training to teach new skills in self management – and it’s fast fun and fascinating.

Contact Veronica at or 086 8113031 for more information.

Companies on the couch: my article for the Dublin City Enterprise Board

CBT in the workplace: my website page.

2 thoughts on “Bringing CBT into the boardroom (tackling toxic culture):

  1. Good article. I just read it and printed it. The article fits into exactly what I have been talking about with clients. Thanks


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