The unfolding of this phenomenon called “change” continues as we stand at the cusp of summer. Are you wondering how many more profound changes await us for the summer months? As if the changes we heard about, experienced and witnessed during spring weren’t enough to rattle us out of complacency, and perhaps creating not only wonder but also anxiety and fear about what’s next. It sure didn’t feel like a gentle or gradual unfolding of a spring blossom. So let’s review and continue our exploration on “change.”
In the first part of this series we examined some of the phenomena of change for the purpose of producing a new understanding for effective action. In the second part we were invited to become different observers of ourselves, others, things going on around us in our back yard, and the happenings in the world that produce the magnitude of change we are constantly experiencing and navigating through.
In this third part of the series, we will take a closer look at Emotional Illiteracy in the workplace and “Change as a process,” which consists of several stages. The journey continues as we examine this aspect and new face of “change.” Enjoy!
Some older and new research points to what is being called “emotional illiteracy,” observed in the workplace. What is meant here is that there is no understanding of the complex emotional dynamics people face with drastic and total shifts in the nature of their work. It is still believed that if people are told (or ordered) to change they will. Surveys found that in the past, people were motivated by appropriate reward and punishment. With money, or the threat of termination, they will go along but leave their spirit and potential at home. Bodies show up but do not produce quality in their performance or creativity in their thinking. Individuals go through an internal struggle with the emotional dynamics and upheaval in the nature of the learning process. Change is terrifying for people. Lack of understanding about the human emotional structure produces actions which actually increase alienation, anger, frustration, and add to the already emotional upheaval. Human beings need a renewal process to incorporate learning and change. Change is a learning process that human beings undertake through a mental and physical process like nature itself. Since we are biological beings, change is a process that must be incorporated into our biology. Any attempt to bring about change without going through the biological nature of human beings causes severe alienation, stress, sickness, and emotional instability.
How can this be incorporated into the fundamental structure of business? There needs to be a design that allows people to learn and act from a new interpretation of “change.” This learning takes place in the creation of a new emotional space where people can express their feelings and concerns openly as part of the process of learning and recognizing what change has meant to them in the past. So there must be an invitation to the incorporation of a process to reveal past traditions and their value in the rituals, forums or ceremonies to give people a reference point from which to move and design away from. Yes, in some organizations there has been recognition of the need for renewal and for human beings to have an emotional space to shift from what was to what will be by designing ceremonies when closing a division, or rituals that precede the transferring of people from one place to another. Forums, rituals, and ceremonies create the emotional space needed for the renewal process to move forward. We, as human beings, evolve emotionally through this renewal process. It is this renewal process that allows the shift, so change can take place. Declaring change does not set it into motion. Change is a process.
The Reality of Change
Have you ever observed that people’s reactions to change regarding the same event can be totally different? One person will perceive the change as negative while the other will perceive the very same change as positive. Why does this happen?
We are always automatically matching our capabilities against the challenges we face. By capabilities we mean the abilities and our willingness to apply them. We are defining challenges as the dangers we see and the opportunities we acknowledge. It seems that people tend to be more comfortable with change when the ability and willingness to change can determine the events and happenings around them. To begin to understand this phenomenon that occurs between people and the changes in life they face, it helps to understand the fundamental need human beings have to control their environment. My work over the years in studies such as “What it means to be Human” and “Human Response and Reaction to the World” has shown that human beings are the most control-oriented animals in this world. For this reason, I claim that it is very important to become an educated observer of how and when people feel the need for control in their environment in order to introduce, execute and manage change. When one can hear and see that people are feeling the need for control in certain areas of concern, the introduction of change can be designed to address this apparent need for control.
Human Need for Control
The methods different people use to meet their control-needs differ and, at times, are not easy to observe. People often express their need to control—or at least influence—their own future in subtle ways. For example, buy a new software package to manage finances or increase productivity, go back to school to acquire a new skill or more education for a different job, end a long-term marriage or hire a financial advisor to plan for the future. Entrepreneurship is a classic example of individuals or groups of people willing to take risks in order to have more control over their lives, only to find out that the new environment of control presents problems of its own. The need that human beings have to control their environment and the outcome of their future influences their control-needs and has a great deal to do with how they may view change. There appears to be a direct correlation between the need for this basic understanding and the successful implementation or acceptance of change(s). Notice how people become disoriented when their basic control-needs are not met. On the other hand, when these needs are met, there is a gained feeling of security, stability and psychological comfort that is so important that achieving this state is one of the most powerful motivators of human behavior.
To better observe this, I invite you to pay attention to how much energy is dedicated to learning…..
What happened after the events took place that are meaningful to you as an individual, i.e.,
“Why was I blamed for that mistake?”
What is happening, i.e.,
“How does this app work when I install it on my phone?”
What will happen, i.e.,
“If the stock market goes up more, should I sell my stock?”
Observe how much time in your life you automatically devote to gaining enough information to control your environment!… and you will get a good idea of how important the need to control is in human beings. Can you see how that might influence their perception of change that they are asked to deal with? When people can match expectations with perceived reality, they feel they have gained a sense of control over their lives. It is not the volume, momentum or complexity of the surrounding events that cause the difference between people being in balance or in chaos, but the degree to which their expectations can be met. Expectations always are attached to a specific outcome, whether real or illusionary.
I believe that change is not interpreted as negative because of its unwanted effects but rather because of our ability to control and control it. If we could stop bad events as they occur or at least anticipate them, and then have time to prepare for the consequences, they wouldn’t be so unpleasant. People view change as negative when they are unable to foresee it, dislike its implications and feel unprepared for its effects. Therefore, perceptions of change as positive or negative will depend on the degree of control people exercise over their environment. Accurately predicting the future greatly reduces the discomfort of uncertainty. Then it stands to reason that disrupting someone’s expectations about important issues or events brings about a strong reaction. It doesn’t matter if the change is a “big” or “small” one. It doesn’t even matter if it is initially seen as positive or negative. What really matters is how disruptive it is to those who are affected. People feel most vulnerable to change when they are surprised by it! From a human point of view, change is minor when it does not significantly disrupt what you anticipated would happen. You simply fine-tune your expectations and adapt to the change. Many times these adjustments are so common that they go unnoticed leaving the impression that no change has occurred. If the disruption is major and expectations are completely altered, confusion, fear, anxiety, anger and a loss of emotional balance is created. Major disruptions often create disabling consequences, costly in both time, and resources.
If you’ve read this far, and feel overwhelmed by perhaps the abstractive description of the phenomenon of change, just reflect on the tremendous “unexpected” changes around the globe over the last few months… floods in Australia, earthquakes in New Zealand and Japan, the nuclear crisis in Japan, the devastations by tornadoes in many Midwestern and Southern states here in the US. I would love to hear from you… how has change affected you? Let’s start a continuing conversation… all sharings are welcome. Send me an email, or go to my blog www.tapestryoflifecoaching.com.
And so, we’ll finish this journey this summer… in the next issue. We’ll wrap up the Process of Change with stops at Micro/Macro Change, Absorbing Change, and the three different phases of the change process.
Have a wonderful spring and Summer Solstice!