Cognitive Distortions in the Workplace

Have you ever found yourself assuming the worst of a situation at work? Perhaps your supervisor thinks poorly of your work ethic since they made a comment about it during a feedback meeting. You may undervalue your own contributions and wrongly conclude that you bring nothing useful to a project. These incorrect assumptions are known as cognitive distortions.

What are cognitive distortions?

Cognitive distortions can be defined as internal biases and errors in logic that create patterns of negative, inaccurate thinking. In the workplace, cognitive distortions can be especially detrimental as they have the potential to wreak havoc on our job satisfaction, performance, productivity, communication skills, and overall well-being.

The origins of cognitive distortions

Roughly sixty years ago, Dr. Aaron Beck, the renowned father of cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and Dr. David Burns, noted that their patients with depression often verbalized thoughts that were deficient in validity and conceptually unrealistic. These invalid thoughts—deemed “cognitive distortions” by Beck and Burns—appeared to be representative of a person’s interpretation of their day-to-day experience more so than the experience itself.

Examples of cognitive distortions in the workplace

All or Nothing Thinking

Viewing situations or people in absolute terms: good or bad, success or failure.

“My presentation went horribly. I did it all wrong.”


Predicting the future in negative terms and framing future events as more awful than they will likely be.

“When my supervisor leaves the company, everything will fall apart!”

Discounting the Positive

Disqualifying positive experiences, insisting they do not count for illogical or unfound reasons.

“My colleague helped me get the promotion… it wasn't due to my own hard work.”

Emotional Reasoning

Assuming that our feelings indicate the reality of the situation at hand.

“I feel guilty about the layoffs, so I must have a role in it.”


Magnification occurs when we place greater importance on the negatives and lesser importance on the positives.

“I made it through multiple interviews, but they still felt I was incompetent.”

Mental Filter

Paying attention to one or a few details and missing the bigger picture at hand.

“I do not care about the other deadlines I met! I failed this one and now it is all downhill from here”

Mind Reading

Believing that you know the thoughts and intentions of others without having any evidence to support said belief.

“All of my coworkers despise me and think I'm incompetent.”


Taking isolated events and generalizing them to every situation.

“I didn’t meet the deadline! That just proves that I will never be successful.”

Should Statements

Telling yourself that situations should play out in a specific way, no matter how unrealistic it may be.

“I should be doing more to complete this project.”

Jumping to Conclusions

Drawing conclusions from little to no confirmatory evidence.

“I was not invited to the seminar, so they definitely don’t value me as an employee.”

Fortunately for us, we can acknowledge our internal biases and errors in logic, and stop them in their tracks. We can reframe cognitive distortions by being more aware of our thoughts and emotions and how they influence each other. Ultimately, changing habitual negative thought patterns such as cognitive distortions often requires help from a mental health professional. Our therapists at Pacific CBT are here to help! Contact us today to schedule a free 15-minute video consultation.

About The Author

Christian Wertman currently works as a behavior therapist in the field of applied behavior analysis. Christian received his Bachelor’s degree in psychology from San Francisco State University and has aspirations for a career in clinical psychology.