First, let’s start with definitions:
Skepticism – Doubt – to be uncertain about; consider questionable or unlikely; hesitate to believe.
Cynicism – bitterly or sneeringly distrustful, contemptuous, or pessimistic.
A manager once said to me, "I’m a cynic!" And I wondered, how does it serve him to choose that perspective or state of mind?
At both The Management Training Institute and The Resilience Training Institute’s training classes and experiential training seminars, we do insight exercises to discover that you can either just "happen to be in" a perspective (from which you act) or you can "consciously choose" the perspective you are in (from which you act). The difference between the two can produce drastically different results.
So I still wondered why someone like this manager was a cynic. Were the early models in her life cynics, so that’s simply how she learned to be? Did she choose this point of view because life is tough and rose colored glasses seemed too much of a contrast from how she experienced life? No matter the origin, I wondered if she’d check in lately to see if this strategy or state was serving her higher good.
The bottom line is this: if you are a cynic then every relationship and circumstance lived through that lens will be one of resistance and adversity; an ever uphill climb. But if you "use" skepticism or doubt as an occasional situational ally, you are in control of when to allow someone or some thing to prove its worth.
Here’s an example of the difference: let’s say you manage an employee who has a tardiness problem. You addressed the issue in a Corrective Coaching session but they have been late a couple of times since. If you are a cynic, when you sit them down again, you will already have predetermined that they will never change that behavior. So when they meet with you, they will most likely feel the squeeze of failure as an inability to ever change. How does that serve either of you?
But let’s try on using skepticism or doubt as an intentional strategy. This mind-set and accompanying energy has a difference from a cynics approach. Using skepticism wisely has room to succeed built in. The "prove it to me" perspective, accompanied by support (in this case, brainstorming strategies and solutions to correct whatever is causing the chronic lateness) says that you won’t believe it till you see it. But it keeps an open mind on seeing it if the employee actually corrects the behavior. And that frees both of you to move on to all the other workplace things you each have to attend to. A cynic will keep each of them prisoners of "can’t do" forever. You can both suffer or you can each succeed.
BTW – if you’ve adopted the mental wiring of being a cynic, you will likely not believe that intentional and situational skepticism can work. Just notice that.
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