In a previous post, When Leaders are Caught in the Middle of Change, I pointed out the frustrations leaders have in the middle of bridging the change gap between where they start to where they want to go. There is a lot of wasted energy among all who are involved in the process during this time. Sam Kaner called this time the Groan Zone.
Why do people, who initially appear excited about the prospect of change, baulk and often react negatively half-way through the change process.
In part, it relates to how we shape our reality. We shape our reality with what we perceive our reality to be. Our perceptions of the future are linked to our present thinking; in other words, we agree with only those things we accept and reject those things that don't fit into our world view. We get trapped in the pathways of our mind – through time we wire our brain, so to speak, to think in the comfort zone. Sam Walter Fosse wrote a wonderful poem called the “Calf Path” which I find describes, as a metaphor, how we get trapped in the pathways of our mind. (Find it at: http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/the-calf-path/
We have been so schooled in our thought processes, formed by our experiences, stories, readings, education, and social relationships that we become fixed in our way of thinking. Our existing thought process is our world view. That’s why it is so hard to break out of it and want to remain with “the way things were.
We are reluctant to let go of old ways! We want to hang on to the old paradigm we know. We want to hang on because it gives us a sense of security, a sense of familiarity – it protects our ego. But keeping with the familiar and not letting go also keeps us from committing to the change process.
What happens when this “hanging on” occurs. Fundamentally we find ways to fight or flee change rather than embrace it. Sometimes this takes an overt form and other times a more covert form. We make excuses, point fingers, resist, oppose, attack, resort to mind games, and exhibit other forms of inappropriate behaviour; We avoid getting involved, shirk responsibility and accountability and often give into passive aggressive behaviour. On good days we take two steps forward and then slip backward. We lose the narrative, the vision and fall back to old ways.
A second dynamic relates to what I have come to know as the “arrogance of certitude.” The arrogance of certitude is viewing ourselves as always right. When I think I’m always right I become judgmental, sometimes downright cruel, and do things without thinking of the consequences – or feelings – of the other, resulting in the breakdown in our respect and relationships with each other in the workplace. Again, our arrogance is steeped in the formulation of our world view. Once we get caught up in this thought process we start thinking from a duality perspective, "I'm right, your wrong," "We were better off before. Past is better than future." We stop thinking about the possibilities and revert to what we know and are comfortable with, because, after all, we are right.
A third dynamic in the mix relates to our lack of comfort with "ambiguity." Ambiguity is that sense of unknowing and a feeling of disconnect with what is going on around us. Feelings of ambiguity often lead to anxiety and fear. It becomes the fear of the unknown. We know what we know for sure, we don't know what the change will ultimately bring, so rather then move forward we want to keep with either the present, or the past. We are fearful that we might lose something in the process and we are not sure what we will gain. So let’s not go there.
We come back to the beginning: to change we must first change our thinking – become aware of who we are and how we behave. Opening ourselves to new behaviours means to change the way we think which informs the way we act; and that’s the harder and more difficult challenge. We can't change anyone, only they can change themselves. We can only give them opportunity and it is up to each individual to seize what could be, rather than what is.
For all these reasons, and more, people naturally resist change, they fight it and find ways to undermine it - their mind doesn't want to go in a different direction, because it is schooled in the direction in which it is trained or wired to go.
Many of us hold back, or double down in the change process, or don’t commit to it because it doesn’t fit into what we are use to – it doesn’t fit into our world view; and this is understandable as not to change is a way of keeping ourselves in tact! We protect our way of thinking, our own way of doing things, and so we keep from fully committing to the change process.
This is what happens to some at the beginning of change, but more so when they are in the middle of the change process. People are caught in wanting to go back to their comfort zone or keep their new middle comfort space. They are reluctant to progress further into the unknown.
My next post will begin to unravel what leaders can do to move out of the middle zone and continue to reach to distant end.
Author: Richard P. Fontanie, MSW FCMC