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If you do not adapt, if you do not learn, you will wither, you will die.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Resistance, control, and the use of salt

Resistance is a concept that has received an amazing amount of attention since the time of Freud. This concept has been a central issue in both the arenas of psychotherapy and of organizational development and change. Resistance is generally considered an unpopular phenomenon when personal but especially organizational change is at stake. It is seen as counterproductive, as annoying, as an emotional response, as oppositional behavior, as blocking progress and many more negative connotations and, I would almost say, accusations. For a much more positive perspective on resistance to change see my earlier blog post on this topic called Change and Resistance (February 7,2011). In the present writing I want to make the connection between experiencing resistance within yourself and personal development by means of learning and growing from your resistance. In order to make this connection I use the four most common reasons why people resist change as listed by Kotter and Schlesinger in their widely used article Six Change Approaches (1979):

1.       Self-interest or the desire not to give up something of value.  

2.       A misunderstanding of the challenge and its implications: inadequate information and miscommunication.

3.       A belief that the change does not make sense for the organization: different assessments of the situation and of the benefits for the organization.

4.       A low tolerance for change: some people are more keen on stability and predictability than others.

Your personal development take-away from this mini-lecture: Assess your own thoughts about (anticipated) change and your responses to change by asking yourself the above questions:

1.       Is my self-interest in conflict with the pending change? Is this really the case or just my perception? Who can I discuss this with? How can I possibly benefit from the change and how can I (or others in the organization) minimize possible negative consequences on my interests?

2.       Do I have enough information on the nature of the change and its implications and possible consequences? Where can I get more information? Have I looked at the possible implications from multiple perspectives such as short term and long term or personal and team perspective?

3.       How informed and knowledgeable am I about the value that the change(s) is adding to the organization? Do I see the bigger picture? Will this organization, after the change takes effect, still fit my values and my purpose?

4.       What do I know about my tolerance for change? How have I dealt with changes in the past, either in a personal or an organizational setting? Which are my strengths, my opportunities, my weaknesses, and my threats in regards to changes and coping with changes? How can I strengthen myself in dealing with changes and who could support me in this endeavor?

And again, these questions do not only apply to dealing with organizational changes. They are as valid when dealing with personal changes such as career switches, family changes, or international transfers. Whether it be organizational or personal change, some changes are self-imposed and under your control (or we believe to think they are) while other changes just come our way, whether we like them or not. Your perspective, your beliefs, and your thinking will greatly influence how you perceive the changes, how you will anticipate them, and how you will deal with them. This is where you can exert control. But remember, using control can have similar effects as using salt: a pinch of it can greatly improve results, however, too much of it can ruin everything. This is where trust, intuition, and learning by experiencing come into play.

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