Few meeting professionals we contacted in the weeks before the U.S. invasion of Iraq had done anything to prepare for the war's impact on their business — from renegotiating theirclauses to increasing their security precautions. Now, with severe acute respiratory syndrome scaring off meetings from Thailand to Toronto, many planners still are taking a "wait and see" approach. We asked two prominent psychologists why there is so much denial in the meetings industry. They are David Barlow, PhD, professor of psychology and director of the Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders at Boston University; and Barton Goldsmith, PhD, a business consultant, trainer, and practicing therapist in Westlake Village, Calif.
Q: Why is there so much denial in our industry?
Goldsmith: In our society, we've been like well-protected children. September 11 was a shock to everyone's system. Psychologically, people are blocking their feelings.
Q: How can you wake people up to their denial?
Barlow: You have to confront rationalizations that allow you to say, yes, there is a threat, but I don't need to deal with it now. Ask yourself hard questions. Chances are, you'll come up with answers that undermine your rationalizations. Then you can begin to figure out what you need to do to protect yourself and your business.
Goldsmith: In my counseling practice, I'm not allowed to say, "Wake up and smell the napalm," but sometimes it's tempting. One thing that helps break through the denial is humor. People in management positions can try to reach out to people with humor. Once they give you permission to make them laugh, they've also given you permission to make them cry.
Sue Pelletier is executive editor of AM's sister publications,and Insurance Conference Planner.