The Pros and Cons of Healthy Skepticism
Let’s talk about the pros and cons of healthy skepticism when you’re an accountant. I believe this topic is important because skepticism can be tricky. .
To start off, consider the following questions:
Have you ever been in a situation where being a bit skeptical was helpful, but at the same time, it made you hesitate to try new things?
Does skepticism sometimes help your career, but also slow it down?
Can you recall times when being skeptical was good, but it also caused challenges when you wanted to grow and come up with new ideas?
The reason I wanted to discuss this topic is because I recently had a coaching consultation call with an accountant who was working between 60 to 80 hours a week. When I asked how many hours they’d prefer to work, they laughed and said they didn’t even know because they thought working less wasn’t possible.
This accountant said, “I just have a healthy skepticism. I can’t see how you could teach me to work less and still get everything done.”
I explained that it’s normal to doubt change at first. But I also asked them, “What’s the upside of sticking to the belief that it’s not possible to work less and still get everything done?” They paused and admitted that there was no upside, but that their skepticism made them question everything.
Believe me, I completely understand their hesitation because I have conversations like this with accountants all the time. That’s why I want to explore this paradox: how skepticism affects our growth.
The interesting thing about skepticism is that it can often be like a reliable compass for accountants. It helps us find hidden problems and keep financial records accurate. The issue is that too much skepticism can actually hold us back from trying new things and growing.
In this episode, I’m going to unravel how skepticism and growth are connected. We’ll see how skepticism can affect our decision-making and sometimes slow us down.
But I’ll also show you how to use skepticism wisely as a guide and a way to spark new ideas, all while avoiding the trap of too much doubt.
Understanding healthy skepticism
Like the accountant I spoke to, we often say we have “healthy skepticism”, but what does that even mean? I look at healthy skepticism as being like a detective in a mystery novel, asking questions and having doubts when needed, just like Sherlock Holmes.
In accounting, it can help us find mistakes, discover hidden financial facts, and keep financial information accurate.
You can also think of it like having a toolbox. In this toolbox, you have a trusty hammer, which is your skepticism.
This hammer is great for solving problems (like driving in nails) and finding errors (like pulling out nails). But, if you use the hammer all the time, even when there are no nails (meaning you doubt everything), it can cause more problems than solutions.
So, why is understanding healthy skepticism important? Well, on one side, skepticism helps us find the truth and keep our data accurate. But on the other side, it’s equally important to know when to put the hammer down and realize that not every situation needs skepticism.
The belief that skepticism always reveals truth
Let’s talk about a tricky part of skepticism: believing it always finds the truth.
Using the analogy of the detective, imagine skepticism as a detective’s magnifying glass. A detective uses that magnifying glass to look at every tiny detail, no matter how small, to solve their case.
However, in our world of accounting, sometimes skepticism makes us think that every tiny detail, even the really small stuff, has a big secret hidden in it. We’re trained to be problem solvers, but unfortunately, that leads us to assume there are more problems than there actually are.
Here’s another issue – while it’s good to be careful and thorough, sometimes too much skepticism slows us down. It’s like going to a magic show and trying to figure out how every trick works.
You’re probably not going to enjoy the show because you’re too busy trying to figure out every hidden secret. It’s the same with skepticism – if you doubt everything, even when things are simple, you miss the magic.
It can also affect how well you work with others. Imagine if you had a friend who questioned everything you said, even when you were telling the truth. That kind of skepticism can make it hard to work together or hard to be friends.
So, while skepticism is useful, it can also be a problem when you always think it finds hidden truths. It’s important to know when to use skepticism and when to trust that things aren’t as complicated as they seem.
For example, remember the accountant I talked to? They were skeptical about working fewer hours because everyone they knew worked long hours.
Their skepticism made them think it was impossible to work less and still get things done. But that skepticism held them back from exploring new ways of doing things and from me teaching them a better, more effective way to manage their time so that they could work less..
On the other hand, some of my coaching clients were skeptical at first too. But here’s the difference – they knew that what they were doing wasn’t working, so they were willing to push past their doubts and try something new.
They were able to push themselves out of the comfort zone that their skepticism offered and to have game-changing results. They learned how to eliminate stress and overwhelm, how to improve their productivity, how to improve their relationships, how to deal with imposter syndrome, and more.
So, while skepticism can be valuable at times, it’s also important to know when to trust and try new things.
The brain’s role in skepticism
Now let’s talk about how our brains are connected to skepticism.
The truth is that our brains play a significant role in shaping our skeptical tendencies.
Think of our brain as a highly advanced computer. It processes information, makes decisions, and stores our beliefs and biases. In the world of skepticism, our brain’s processes can either be our greatest asset or our biggest liability.
Research in neuroscience has shown that our brains are wired to take shortcuts when making decisions. These shortcuts, known as cognitive biases, can lead us in the wrong direction. For example, confirmation bias, where we often look for information that agrees with what we already believe, can cloud our judgment.
Now, here’s where skepticism comes into play. It acts as a sort of mental filter, helping us question those biases.
It’s like having an inner skeptic saying, “Hold on a minute, let’s examine this from all angles.” This is a valuable function of skepticism—it helps us break free from cognitive biases and see the bigger picture.
Imagine you’re looking at a magic trick and your brain immediately jumps to a conclusion about how it’s done. Your skepticism steps in and says, “Wait, there might be more to this than meets the eye.” It encourages you to dig deeper, question assumptions, and seek the truth.
But here’s the catch: our brains are also wired for efficiency. It likes to conserve energy which means that if we lean too heavily on skepticism, we might fall into the trap of overanalyzing or doubting everything, which can become mentally exhausting and counterproductive.
The important thing is to find a balance between skepticism and trusting our brains. It’s like knowing when to question things and when to believe in ourselves.
The cons of skepticism
While healthy skepticism is undoubtedly a powerful tool in the world of accounting, it’s essential to recognize that, like any tool, it can have drawbacks. Let’s take a look at the potential downsides of being overly skeptical and how it can sometimes hinder progress and innovation.
Think about an accountant who is overly suspicious when looking at financial reports. They may spend excessive time scrutinizing every detail, doubting the accuracy of even the most straightforward transactions.
While this level of scrutiny may uncover errors, it can also lead to delays in financial reporting and decision-making. At the end of the day it’s really all about finding balance.
Interestingly, there is a phenomenon known as “audit fatigue” or “skepticism fatigue.” This occurs when auditors or accountants become overly skeptical and constantly question the integrity of every transaction or piece of information they encounter.
This heightened skepticism can lead to fatigue, decreased effectiveness, and a higher likelihood of missing important red flags.
In the field of auditing and forensic accounting, auditors are encouraged to strike a balance between skepticism and professional judgment. We need to be vigilant in identifying potential fraud indicators but also avoid becoming so skeptical that we become ineffective in our roles.
Another issue is that skepticism can create an atmosphere of mistrust within an organization. When colleagues and superiors feel that their work is constantly under scrutiny, it can stifle collaboration.
Teams may become reluctant to propose solutions or share their ideas for fear of being met with skepticism.
A study conducted by Gallup found that workplaces with a culture of excessive skepticism experienced lower levels of employee engagement. Employees in these environments were less likely to feel valued, motivated, or enthusiastic about their work.
The study emphasized the importance of balancing healthy skepticism with trust to foster a more positive workplace culture.
A research paper published in the Journal of Applied Psychology explored the impact of skepticism on team dynamics. The study found that teams with a leader or member who exhibited excessive skepticism had lower levels of trust and cohesion.
This lack of trust hindered communication and collaboration, ultimately affecting the team’s performance.
Another significant drawback of excessive skepticism is the potential for missed personal and professional growth opportunities.
Imagine an individual who is skeptical about new career opportunities within their organization. They keep asking themselves if they’re ready for a promotion or a tougher job.
As a result, they pass up on opportunities for career advancement, missing the chance to develop new skills, take on leadership roles, and expand their professional goals.
Or picture an individual attending a professional conference who may be overly skeptical about networking and approaching potential mentors. They worry about rejection or perceive networking as insincere.
Consequently, they miss opportunities to connect with experienced professionals who could offer guidance and open doors for personal and career growth.
Or imagine someone with an entrepreneurial spirit who may be excessively skeptical about launching their own business. They doubt whether their ideas are viable or if they have the skills required for entrepreneurship.
This skepticism can lead to missed opportunities for personal and professional growth through the pursuit of entrepreneurship, including gaining valuable experience and learning from failures.
Ultimately, the goal should be finding the right balance between skepticism and trust. While skepticism is vital for ensuring financial accuracy and integrity, it’s equally important to recognize when it’s inhibiting our progress and growth.
Overcoming limiting beliefs
Now let’s shift the focus from the challenges of excessive skepticism to the strategies for overcoming limiting beliefs and striking a balance. While we’ve already established that skepticism can be a valuable tool, when it becomes a hindrance, it’s time to take action and challenge some limiting beliefs..
The most important thing in overcoming limiting beliefs is to become more aware of them. This means noticing when skepticism goes from being a useful tool to something that’s stopping you from growing.
Here are some simple strategies:
Self-Reflection: Take a moment to think about how skeptical you are in different situations. Ask yourself if your skepticism has ever stopped you from taking risks that could have turned out to be opportunities.
Mindfulness: Try practicing mindfulness. This helps you become more aware of your thoughts and feelings. It lets you see your skepticism without judging it, and makes it possible to adjust as needed.
Seek Feedback: Talk to your colleagues, mentors, or supervisors. They might have insights about when your skepticism is helpful and when it gets in your way. Their feedback can help you make changes.
Balanced Decision-Making: Aim to find a balance between skepticism and trust. Learn when to be cautious and when to have confidence in your decisions.
Risk Assessment: Instead of being skeptical about all risks, learn to tell the difference between risks that need careful thinking and those that you can handle or accept. This way, you can take informed risks that lead to growth.
Lifelong Learning: Keep seeking opportunities to learn and grow professionally. This shift in mindset can help you overcome limiting beliefs and focus on growing.
Challenging Comfort Zones: Often, growth comes when you step out of your comfort zone and take on new challenges. Be open to new experiences, roles, and responsibilities that push your abilities.
By using these strategies, you can strike a balance between skepticism and growth. It’s about knowing when skepticism helps and when it’s holding you back, so you can overcome beliefs that limit your personal and professional development.
The Smarter Accountant approach: Striking the balance
Okay, now that I’ve discussed the pros and cons of healthy skepticism, it’s time to emphasize the importance of striking the right balance while aspiring to be a Smarter Accountant.
Being a Smarter Accountant means understanding when skepticism is helpful and when it might hold you back from growing. Imagine it as a balancing act.
On one side, you have skepticism. It’s like a watchful eye that helps catch mistakes and keeps financial data reliable. On the other side, you have personal growth – that’s your journey of learning, coming up with new ideas, and advancing your career.
To become a Smarter Accountant, you need to balance these two.
First, realize that the right level of skepticism depends on the situation. Sometimes, you need to be more skeptical, like when you’re checking financial records. Other times, it’s better to be open-minded, especially when exploring new business opportunities or personal development.
Second, base your skepticism on facts, evidence, and good reasoning. This way, your skepticism is useful and in line with making decisions based on data. Stop arguing for your limitations and be open to possibilities.
Third, think about risks and rewards carefully. Use skepticism to handle risks, but don’t be afraid to take calculated risks for your personal and professional growth. If the net result would be positive, then be willing to step out of your comfort zone.
Fourth, keep learning. Stay up-to-date with your professional continuing education, but also place as much importance on your personal continuing education. Be willing to adapt and grow.
Fifth, connect with experienced mentors, coaches, and work with your peers. Experienced individuals can guide you on when to be skeptical and when it might be holding you back. Remember, your brain naturally resists change, so it’s helpful to work with someone to help you make a wanted change.
Sixth, remember that skepticism and innovation can go together. Create an environment where people can share their doubts and ideas freely. Be willing to be wrong and give others the opportunity to share their thoughts.
Lastly, regularly check your approach to skepticism. If you notice it’s stopping you from moving forward, be ready to make changes. If you don’t like your current results, professionally or personally, be open to seeing things differently.
By following these tips, you can balance skepticism and personal growth. Being a Smarter Accountant means using skepticism as a useful tool when needed, and embracing opportunities for growth with confidence.
Keep in mind that when you strike the right balance, skepticism becomes a driving force for an improved career and life. .
And since my mission is to provide accountants with new growth opportunities, if you are struggling with any aspect of being an accountant, you can simply go to www.thesmarteraccountant.com/calendar and book a free session with me.
I’ll explain The Smarter Accountant 6-week Program and how you can apply it to whatever you’re struggling with.
That’s what I have for you, but make sure you check back each week as I help you go from being a stressed accountant to a Smarter Accountant.
Make sure you go to www.thesmarteraccountant.com and take The Smarter Accountant Quiz. You’re going to want to know if you’ve been underutilizing your accountant brain so that you have a starting point for becoming a Smarter Accountant..
Also, I would appreciate it if you could get the word out to other accountants about this podcast. The more accountants find out about it, the more we can begin to change the narrative in the accounting profession.
The truth is that you’re already smart, but this podcast will show you how to be smarter.