How To Win Mind Games


“Why did they get the promotion and not me? I’ll never get promoted!”

Immediately the question races through your mind when you hear the bad news. You force yourself to congratulate the successful candidate through gritted teeth wondering how they managed to pull the wool over the eyes of the interviewers. Conspiracy theories swirl through your head.

Then a horrific realization sets in. “Maybe if this faker is valued higher in the organization than me what hope do I have of ever progressing?”

We’ve all faced this, but perhaps our minds are actually working against us?

The Leader’s perspective: The “Suck Up” Game

Leaders want to hire the best people. They want to surround themselves with experts who they believe will take them further forward towards their goals.

Marshall Goldsmith, author of “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There” summarizes this problem with his famous analogy of the “suck up dog”.

“Imagine that you come home from a business trip away”, he begins, “and as you open the front door your beloved dog races to meet you. Your dog jumps up, barks excitedly, tries to cover your face with licks and wags its tail like an outboard motor.”

When Goldsmith asks his audiences who gets attention when you get home? Is it (a) your husband, wife, or partner; (b) your kids; or (c) your dog? More than 80 percent of the time, the winner is the dog.

Upon further questioning the reason the dog receives the most attention is because the dog, in Goldsmith’s words, is a suck up.

But suck ups aren’t necessarily the one’s doing all the real work, being the most productive or more effective, but we are blinded by their unconditional admiration for us.

“We have a tendency to favor those who favor us” says Goldsmith.

We place our favorites on a higher social standing than those we like less. This is often referred to as the Halo Effect

First coined by the psychologist Edward Thorndike, the Halo Effect impacts our decision making by applying favorable attributes to the person (or brand) that we like or find most attractive. Marketers have used this consistently through advertising with the use of popular celebrities endorsing products in an effort to transfer that same positive emotion we feel for the celebrity to the product.

If we are predisposed to psychologically favor those we “like” what about those we don’t?

In opposition to the Halo Effect we face the Negative Bias. For example, in 2001 researchers found that when trying to recall an emotional event we are predisposed to remember negative events more easily than positive ones. Why this matters to leaders is that we are naturally inclined to remember negative aspects rather than positive ones. Which will, in turn, affects our hiring decision making process.

The Failed Candidate’s perspective: The “Yes, But” Game

Perhaps the unlucky candidate is justified in their first statement, however they want you to play their game – the “Yes, But” Game.

I’ll never get promoted” is the first move in the game. A friend may be suckered into playing by saying “of course you will, we just need to work on your interview skills”.

The game continues “But I tried that, I did lots of prep and I was still overlooked”.

“Well how about we try rehearsing before the next interview?” volunteers the friend becoming a little irritated with the rejection of useful suggestions.

Yes I could try that, but I hate role playing

“What about if we get feedback on why you were unsuccessful?” continues the friend now frustrated.

Sure, but I already know what they are going to say so there’s no point

“I could speak to HR and see if there is anything they could do?” puts forward the friend close to breaking point.

There’s no point, HR is on the side of the Director, they’re no help

Giving up the friend throws in the towel “Fine! Well maybe you’re not going to get promoted!”

And the game is won.

The game is not to have a solution to the problem; instead it is to have the statement justified which is why the “yes, but” tactic is used over and over again until the other player gives up.

First popularized by Eric Berne, MD in his psychotherapy book, Games People Play , the “Yes, But” Game redefined how psychotherapists and psychologists approached patients no longer attempting to offer “cures” which would be rejected multiple times but to recognize the game being played and not allowing it to continue using various strategies.

How to stop playing games

  1. Self-Awareness

The first step is self-awareness that these games are being played on an unconscious level. It requires discipline and observation in the early days to recognize these games even exist. Experiment with these games with your friends, family and peers, although as a warning, choose topics that are not emotionally charged. Testing “You don’t love me anymore” with your family or partner in the “Yes, But Game” is highly unadvisable. Instead try the example given above.

  1. Discover

Second, choose those who you trust and share with them these games. Ask them to help spot when you both play them. It is a lot easier to discover self-awareness when someone points it out.

  1. Accept

Lastly, accept that these games are hardwired into our psychology. They have developed over the years and we all play them. Where you can win these games is by recognizing that you are playing them in the first place and either use them to your advantage or stop playing altogether.

Now, what would you like to play? Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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