That’s how strongly some people can feel about change – even if it’s wonderful, exciting, beneficial, some people just don’t like messing about with the status quo.
The last couple of blogs that I’ve written on change have focused on the fact that change happens, our lives are always evolving, the world around us is always evolving; change is inevitable.
What I haven’t looked at is another whole aspect of change and that has to do with how we are physiologically built to respond to patterns. Patterns are part of the very nature of our physical makeup: our heart beats to a pattern, we inhale and exhale to a pattern, our organs exist through patterns of creating and divesting themselves of cells. And these patterns happen without our consciously thinking about them.
If you know anyone with a heart condition or a breathing condition or any ailment that interferes with the body’s natural patterns, you know how potentially devastating it can be when those patterns are disrupted.
We are also geared to rely on patterns every day of our lives other than our bodily ones: most people have the same routines: they get ready in the morning the same way and tend to eat the same thing; go to work via the same route; read the same newspapers and magazines; shop at the same stores. There’s nothing at all wrong with this, it’s just that repeating routine reinforces our patterns and can make it harder to change them.
Here’s a nifty little experiment you can do to demonstrate how unconscious we are about the patterns that ‘run’ our lives. Choose any two drawers you have: they can be in the bedroom or the kitchen for instance. If the two drawers are next to each other or one above the other, all the better. Now switch the contents. What was in Drawer Number 1 you now put into Drawer Number 2 and vice versa.
Then sit back and watch the results. Every time you want a pair of socks you will open the underwear drawer and vice versa; every time you need cutlery you will open the gadget drawer and vice versa.
See how long it takes for a new pattern to become embedded so that you automatically go to the ‘right’ drawer. The length of time will be different for everyone.
The reason we encourage this little experiment is to illustrate that we rely on patterns to function smoothly but also why change can be so disquieting and unsettling. Our minds are attracted to patterns as it frees bits of it up to do other things at a more conscious level.
It helps to understand that for many people who look as though they are being resistant to change may just be responding to their unconsciously entrenched patterns. Going on and on about the benefits of change won’t ‘change’ their minds.
This is especially true if you’re introducing something major within your organisation. When significant changes are in the pipeline we know that a lot of time, effort, energy and money will have gone into the planning stages to make it happen. Therefore, those who have been part of that process will have been living with the impending changes for some time. They will already have projected themselves into what the new will look like.
Not so everyone else. They will have heard rumours or been told that something big was going to happen, but because they won’t have been a big part of it all, that adherence to patterns will spring into action and fear or anxiety or discomfort will be the order of the day.
Of course, the most straightforward way to deal with this is to involve people early and often so they feel as though they are contributing to the changes and there’s a far greater chance of getting positive buy-in.
If you’re beyond the consultation stage at this point, then it is imperative that you acknowledge the variety of emotions people are experiencing so they don’t then feel ‘bullied’ into doing something they’d rather not.
Helping others manage change is as important as the changes themselves.
By the way, at the end of the experiment, if you decide to do it, see if you are inclined to put the drawers back the way they were in the first place!
Check out Impact Factory’s Change Management courses.
By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory