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Want to be strong?

Be less certain.

That runs against the grain, since it suggests weakness. It also counters the fact that as we gain experience and knowledge, we become more certain that we know the correct path on matters large and small.

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But Jane Perdue warns that knowledge can trip us up when it turns into dogmatism. Our passion can turn to prejudice and intolerance, provoking polarization in the workplace. We become rigid, clinging to certain principles we have found will work. “Listening lessens. Voices are silenced. Hearts and minds close. Curiosity ceases. Flexibility vanishes. Learning stops. There’s no room for differences,” she writes on the LeadChange website.

And don’t think you’re too smart for this to happen. In some ways, the smarter you are the more chances for it to occur.

“No one says ‘I’m going to take this job and become dogmatic,’ but sometimes people do just that. Even worse, they’re unaware of having done it. Rigidity of thought and practice are like thieves who come furtively in the night and steal flexibility, growth, and change,” she says.

She notes that when someone gets caught up in dogmatism, they can find themselves suddenly arguing with everyone, amazed at how stupid people have become. They’re constantly defending their turf, incensed about what their colleagues do or don’t do. “Is that you?” Ms. Perdue asks.

Here are seven warning signs:

  • Has your communication style become abrupt and dismissive?: In essence, you have concluded it isn’t worth your time to converse with others who have nothing of value to offer. “A dogmatist will change the topic, give short answers, or ignore what’s said. They may lob insults, trivialize, or harshly criticize. They look away, smirk, roll their eyes, sigh, or interrupt. They’ll use disdainful hand gestures, maybe even walk away,” she notes.
  • Do you feel more anger and despair about differences than you used to?: Since you’re right it’s natural to feel anger, despair or contempt when others don’t immediately go along.
  • Do you look for ways to prove yourself never wrong?: “Dogmatists pull themselves up by beating others down. They don’t make mistakes or have errors of judgment. Only the ‘others’ who are wrong do that. A dogmatist knows the truth, so they don’t have to agonize over it. Nor will they compromise or move toward moderation,” she says.
  • Have you changed your circle of friends and only associate with those who share your beliefs?: It’s reassuring to be with people who agree with you and uncomfortable to be with those who don’t. Over time, you end up narrowing the range of your acquaintances.
  • Have you stopped listening to people who have opinions that differ from yours?: It’s easy to shut down when people usually say things you disagree with. They are unlikely to say much of value so you write them off.
  • Do you reach conclusions quickly based on how you see the world?: Once you start to form a favoured approach to situations, one solution to a problem can clearly align with your perspective. No need to waste time looking for an alternative course of action.
  • Do you see the world in black and white?: “To a dogmatist, the world is simple. People are either a good guy or a bad one. Someone is either a friend or foe. Someone’s position is either right or wrong. Dogmatists don’t see complexity or nuance,” she writes.

Your experience and knowledge starts to hurt rather than help you when it turns to dogmatism. Watch for the warning signs.

Quick hits

  • If you’re going to arrive late and leave early, why go at all?, asks consultant Alan Weiss.
  • Here are 10 books that Fast Company found CEOs keep returning to over and over again: Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln; Blue Ocean Strategy; Dare to Lead; Thinking, Fast and Slow; The Boys in the Boat; The Longevity Economy; Radical Candour; When Breath Becomes Air; The Harry Potter series; Loving What is: Four Questions that Can Change Your Life.
  • Putting a social media icon at the top of your website may show you’re with-it and connected, but it’s also just encouraging visitors to leave your site, says consultant Andy Crestodina. Put the icons at the bottom of the page and grey them out, he suggests.
  • Toronto-based McLuhan & Davies has harnessed virtual reality for training in presentations, with software that analyzes a person’s style for factors such as quality of eye contact, use of filler words, and speed of talking.
  • If you wake up early and your mind starts to race into workplace matters while you crave more sleep don’t look at your clock. Nathaniel Watson, co-director of the University of Washington’s Medicine Sleep Center, says it will only remind you of things you have to do and take you further from a sleep mindset.

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