Avoidance and Resistance to Change
Are you a Manager, a Team Leader, a Consultant who is committed to making a difference to your organization, your team, your client? Perhaps you want to foster cultures that promote both well-being and productivity?
Do you feel like a kid on a ferrris wheel, going around and around and you can not get off? Lots of activity, lots of busyness, desiring to make the changes you feel would improve your work, life and organization, but, what is really changing?
You find out the latest research, you seek out new knowledge online, read and attend courses. You find something that resonates, whether it be emotional intelligence, understanding self-organizing systems, or feedback in teams, and you want to introduce these ideas to your organization.
You initiate a meeting, you share the concepts and you engage in great conversation about the models. Whilst there is a level of understanding amongst the group, the conversation does not shift to values, beliefs, behavior or practical applications.
The training, workshop or meeting does not result in any changes or transfer of knowledge down the line.
You wonder why.
How did your group respond?
What do you notice when you muse about the response of your group to ideas? Did the Managers engage in intellectual conversation about whether the model was accurate or not? Did some want to improve it, others change it and others discard it? Were there arguments ABOUT the model, BUT, not a conversation that led to understanding what the ideas mean in practice.
People either felt good about having an intellectual conversation, or they felt it was a waste of time, navel gazing about models that took them away from a busy schedule. Some may have become frustrated. Resistance was experienced, with some people folding their arms and not saying anything, others “arguing” about the model.
Silence AND confrontation can be both resistance and avoidance.
Either way, you have not achieved the changes you desired.
To protect ourselves, we avoid experiencing, feeling, sensing and conversing about the current reality. This would be exposing and confronting the cultural norms that detract us from working together well. We have not been "taught", how to talk about our felt experience. We stay with our comfort zone, in our heads, even though, the conversations take us in circles without getting anywhere.
This is at the point of our not knowing.
In a world that honors what we know, how do we maintain credibility when we don’t know the answers?
This is at the point of our pre-occupation with thinking; not sensing, feeling and intuiting.
Our protection is protecting ourselves from being human, as we have become so used to living and working with abstractions, technology and "things" outside ourselves.
This is the point of learning how to be with uncertainty, complexity and the unknown. If, we are brave enough to go there.
How do we stay in the uncertainty and allow ourselves to have the frank, curious, honest conversations that will allow new understanding to emerge?
What are the consequences, if we don’t learn to have these conversations…
People don’t want to attend training or workshops as they experience them as a waste of time. They walk away saying we might as well just “network”, that is more interesting than attending courses or workshops.
We keep on going around in circles with more and more activity and busyness and generating more ‘changes” that are still impregnated with linear, reductionist, control orientated values and beliefs, in places that are interdependent and need autonomy.
An even bigger consequence; we give away our humanity and make choices as if we are machines rather than human beings. We wonder why people feel alienated and there is bullying, conflict, presenteeism, and massive turnover in workplaces.
What is going on underneath the surface?
Firstly, our knowledge and experience designing and delivering training, education, and meetings arose from believing in expert, top-down approaches. These approaches mostly disseminate information to people as if they learn by osmosis, they are dependent on being provided with knowledge from an expert, and, as if the participants don’t know much anyway. The expectation of the participants in these scenarios is mainly to be passive, compliant listeners.
There is some small change today. People want to be engaged, information is available everywhere, so when we come together face-to-face, we apply facilitated meeting designs that encourage conversation. But, the conversation is still limited by whatever the culture is the people work within, unless, we turn our "shared experience" into the 'content" of the meeting, and learn from our shared experience in the moment.
The culture of the design of our meetings, and the culture of the actual “training, workshop or meeting” environment will reflect our beliefs.
This is a great opportunity to intentionally surface what is happening, and work with the experience and process of the group as the content of the session.
If we set an intention to notice and sense the unspoken values and norms of our group, we can observe and feel them, and the consequences of those values.
What Cultural Norms Arise?
The culture that appears is a reflection of the culture in the organization or group. A culture of competition may arise, some people may want to stand out and be seen to have credibility, others may want to catch the facilitator out. If there is a culture of compliance, the session is likely to mirror that behaviour; if the culture is competitive, and promotes winners and losers, the gathering is likely to mirror that; if the culture is team based, co-operative and non-defensive, the session is likely to mirror those norms.
Being able to make the cultural norms transparent is an enormous opportunity to create change in the present.
The norms are a great source of content to experience change happen right now. Not something that is talked about. Change is created and experienced, in the moment and sticks.
We need to be brave enough to invite others to work with what is present in the current state of the group.
This takes skill.
We learn by doing this, not only talking about the change we desire in the future, but living it now.
Limitations on Sharing Experience
Secondly, we live in a world that loves abstract concepts, ideas, models and intellectual knowledge. It has only been in the last 20 years that emotional intelligence has arisen to a credible status, but even this is often talked about at an intellectual level, based on models, not as a felt, lived experience.
What we miss is the connection between the model and the practice. The practice is the lived experience where the model arose. Talking about our lived experience requires our ability to talk about how we feel, how we respond energetically and what we imagine.
This is where we need to improve our capabilities. To be skilled at sharing our experience, our feelings and what we imagine. These are the enablers to help us create deep connections.
What is a model anyway?
Someone has some experience about work and life. They have reflected on that experience and have constructed a theory. A theory is based on something that seems to occur in certain circumstances; if this happens, this is likely to occur. A pictorial model is often drawn, to represent the ideas and actions that have been noticed and experienced.
The model is a tool to help explain a situation that we have not been in, or are in, but we have not been able to see for ourselves, the elements that are at play. A “model” is a tool to help us make sense of the world. Relating and connecting our felt experience to a model helps us have new insights. We can use a model as a catalyst to talk about our experiences and to see something we have not seen before. When we make better sense of our experiences we can choose better actions that lead us to adaptations that creating well-being and prosperity in whole-of-life terms.
A simple model, for a catalyst for a conversation. Thinking, feeling and imagining are all inter-connected,\ when we separate them as if they are not connected, we cut off a part of our humanity. We can make sense of this, when we connect with how we think, feel and imagine new ideas and actions in our lives.
Dependence on the Leader, Facilitator, Presenter
We have been very well trained in expecting our learning to occur by osmosis and from an expert. Many people want the facilitator/expert, to tell them how to make sense of the ideas. Once again, this is our hidden values, beliefs and practices surfacing.
We are in the middle of a transition to learn how to work in complex, uncertain, environments. The more we practice not knowing and working out new meaning ourselves in our groups, the more capable we become of making sense of the unknown.
This means intentionally creating new expectations when we come together in groups. Expectations that we will work it out together. The facilitator, leader or manager does not have to know all the answers. Rather, they can help us create the environment to work them out together.
We are not empty vessels. We have instinctual wisdom as soon as we are born and our knowledge grows from our experiences in life.
What can we do?
Rather than navel gazing about a model or theory, the next time you resonate with some information, consider applying the approaches I share below, when you want to introduce the ideas to your teams and events. An even better idea is to adapt the approaches I suggest below, and create your own personal methods that work for you and your team.
The more we adapt and make ideas and practices our own, the more we are likely to take action.
Introduce the model/theory with a story.
There was something that resonated with you. What story springs to light based on your experience. If you do not have a story, talk to others, find and share a story of an event that resonates with the theory and model.
Theory alone keeps us in the realm of ideas. A story will connect us to practical real life events. A story is usually descriptive, and emotive has a beginning, middle and an end and is more likely to connect with our own stories.
When I want to introduce a concept of delegation to a group of Managers, I often begin with a story of a Business Owner I worked with who was proactive in succession planning, and an unexpected surprise emerged. Over a year he learned how to let go of the reins and hand over responsibility to his next level of Management. When others took on responsibility for the roles he had previously held, he found a freedom for new pursuits both within the business and in totally new areas. The people in the business thrived on taking up new challenges. This led to him selling the business and taking on something new. He had originally perceived delegation as a threat, now he realized how the more he delegated the more opportunities appeared for all concerned.
Add some research
A quick Google search today is likely to surface a study with practical results. Take a story and facts from the research, as another way to help connect theory with practice.
For example, in 2015, a Nobel prize was awarded to a Chinese researcher, Tu YouYou.
She synthesized the active ingredient in Wormwood and re-discovered the cure for Malaria. In today’s world, we think amassing a lot of knowledge and working constantly is the ideal modus operandi for producing breakthrough ideas. However, this Nobel prize was not awarded for the discovery of the cure. It was the re-discovery, that was done in co-operation with a team. A Chinese mystic knew how to use Wormwood to heal people with Malaria in 400AD with no technology.
This story highlights our need to understand a process of inquiry of how we learn, how we solve problems, of curiosity and cooperation, rather than knowing all the answers.
An Image and a Metaphor
"A picture is one thousand words," is true. Having an image or a metaphor of the concept helps people make connections in different ways. Inviting people to share the images or metaphors they see in their work, helps make new meaning.
Play and Curiosity
Learn to re-discover how we learnt when we were in kindergarten. Children in kindergarten have lots of action, their reflection may not be conscious, but they are constantly seeing what works, what doesn’t, trialing, adapting and creating. They may fight in one second and are friends again the next as they learn how to cooperate. Let us take what we did well when we were at an age of pure delight in our discovery of the new, with what we have learnt from our experience over time, and create new and better ways to adapt our work environments, to promote both well-being and productivity.
A Japanese Kindergarten designed in a circle, around trees, gives children the freedom and responsibility to play and learn together and from nature. The structure, reflects the beliefs about a child's need for freedom, autonomy, play and connection to nature.
What beliefs and values are our structures reflecting?
Be Up Close and Personal
Practice being vulnerable, share your feelings, stories, mistakes and reflections. When did something happen to you that relates to the concept? When did you not know the answers? How did you find out new answers?
The more we share our vulnerability, our curiosity, our not knowing the answers, and working them out for ourselves; the more we are modeling the kind of behaviour that we need in our workplaces today.
A group will only be able to share their feelings and stories, as much as you are able. Start practicing in one-to-one settings with people you trust.
Emotions and Energy
If we are not aware of how we feel, or how others feel, we miss out on valuable information about our choices. The more we feel comfortable disclosing our feelings, the more we gain self-awareness of the difference between being affected by an action that has occurred in the present, or whether a past memory has been triggered.
Practice sharing how you feel. Practice sharing the effect of a choice and an action, on you and others. Invite others to share how they feel. Our feelings contribute to the choices we make.
When reflecting on a meeting with the Chair of a Board, he shared the reaction of one Board member, Bob, to another, Steve, when being asked to present a new strategy to the Board to solve a problem. Steve said Bob was still talking about the issues and had not generated a strategy. Bob reacted defensively to Steve. The Chair, named what he could see happening between the two Board members. Steve said he had not attacked Bob. Bob said he felt attacked. The Chair, pointed out to Steve, that although he did not feel he attacked Bob, Bob felt attacked. Steve was non-defensive. The Chair, said to Bob and Steve, let’s not get emotional or out of control in our meetings.The Chair, suggested they all talk about the issues now and develop a strategy together. The result was a strategy that was owned by the Board and they made a commitment to take the actions necessary.
The Chair was effective in:
· Naming what is going on
· Inviting reflection in the moment
· Inviting curiosity
· Giving up being right
· Inviting no blame
I suggested the Chair connect with Bob after the meeting, to see if there was something unspoken between Bob and Steve they needed to sort out and if he needed assistance. If not, he could ask Bob to reflect on his response to Steve and find out the cause of such a strong response. I also suggested to the Chair, rather than say, “do not get emotional in meetings”, face the reality that we are emotional. Rather then restrain emotion, agree on ways to transition through highly charged experiences if and when they occur. Give permission to share our joy, sense of achievement and frustration. Find ways to channel the energy from our emotions to foster the wellness of the group. I suggested he include the topic of emotional responses and interpersonal interactions on the agenda at the next meeting.
To, Close for now...
These are only a few strategies, to shift from talking ABOUT things, to talking about our lived experience right now, and create the change that we want right in this moment. Once we experience sensing new behaviors, these experiences stick. Keep doing this again and again and we are now on the way to living new behaviors, values, and norms as new habits. They become the new way we do things around here. This is learning how to respond to uncertainty and complexity in the moment, and how to adapt and create the new.
What about you? What are you doing that is creating a shift in behavior now?
Deborah Lange is a Speaker, Author, Facilitator & Mentor in the fields of Social Intelligence and Being Human.
She guides entrepreneurs, professionals, and consultants how to express themselves fully, and create more human workplaces.
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