I often say that facts dictate the need for change and emotions create the barrier to it. The issue of understanding and addressing the emotional factors that slow change efforts – both organizational and personal – appears in many ways across the landscape of change management and behavior change literature.
Changing from one way of doing things (behavior) to a different one always involves loss, and loss triggers powerful negative emotions. It is these negative emotions that you must understand and address to successfully influence change.
Previously, I wrote about the power that having a weight loss goal had in driving my choices with regard to diet and exercise. Even though I had a weight goal in mind at the time of that change, the greatest barrier I faced in achieving it were the emotions triggered by the “loss” of some of my favorite foods.
I really like cheese, chocolate, and a long list of other relatively high fat, high calorie foods. I knew that I would survive quite well if I chose to eat less of them and to eat more broccoli, oranges, apples, and asparagus instead. While I like broccoli, oranges, apples, and asparagus, none of them gives me the emotional satisfaction of cheese or chocolate.
My weight (a fact) drives the need for change. An emotion – a grilled cheese sandwich makes me feel better than a turkey or grilled vegetable sandwich – was the barrier to change. To overcome this emotional barrier, I had to anticipate these emotional responses and protect myself in advance. For example, my wife and I made (and continue to make) as many eating choices as possible before we are hungry by keeping less cheese and more cheese alternatives in our house.
The leadership lesson is this – emotions are often fickle, transitory, and situational. They are usually difficult to overcome in-the-moment, and they often create unpredictable behaviors.
To maximize the speed of change implementation and to create an environment that reinforces and supports change efforts, remember both the points about goal setting that I raised previously and these points about protecting you and the people around you from the emotional side of change:
- Anticipate the emotions that the change might trigger. Before you communicate about a change, think how others might view it. What are they losing? What will it cost them? During the change, listen for the emotions people express in addition to the facts that they bring to your attention.
- Make it easier to do things the new way. Do everything you can to remove physical barriers people face to do things the new way. Physical barriers will trigger negative emotional reactions.
- Create barriers to using old behaviors. If people can do things the old way, they probably will. Create physical barriers to using old procedures and practices.
- Create specific steps – actions – to get and keep the change moving. Develop support mechanisms and reminders to help people when they are confronted with short-term distractions and a desire to “do things the old way.”
Both the facts and the emotions are important elements in driving changed behavior. Ignore either one, and your change effort will fail.
Your Now Step: What changes are you trying to make? What emotions do those changes create? Think through the issues and situations where strong emotions could derail your change efforts. Write them down. In the next 24 hours, do something to protect you and your team from those emotional responses.