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what is it about change that scares us so?

human-centric change is the ultimate frontier

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photo credit: © Leigh Prather-stock.adobe.com
photo credit: © Leigh Prather-stock.adobe.com

With over twenty-plus years of practical clinical and business experience, working with all shapes and sizes, all kinds of people, essential and not, in all types of environments or ecosystems, I genuinely appreciate now a simple, but, oh so intricate, realization.

Personal change (sensemaking) lies at the heart of collective change. And, the interactions between us and our worlds are entirely reciprocal.

Changes in either—personal or collective change, releases a spring or catch, and so sets off a mechanism, especially to fire—Reciprocity.

A mutual exchange. It is a process of exchanging things with other people to gain a mutual benefit—advantage or profit through reciprocity.

That can be good or bad: Trust Your Neighbors but Brand Your Stock.

The norm or rule of reciprocity is a social one, where if and when someone does something for you, you then feel obligated to return the favor.

Jamie Dutton: He never had that. He had their respect; he had their loyalty, but that? I don’t even know what you call that.

Kayce Dutton: I don’t either. Gratitude, I guess.

—Yellowstone (Paramount Network)

Like myself, I am sure you can remember feeling obligated to do something for someone because they first did something for you. 

It is pretty simple.

People tend to feel obligated to return favors after people do ones for them.

What’s the power here?

It’s that reciprocity is not only a strong determinant of behavior. It’s also a powerful method for gaining someone’s compliance with a request. 

Reciprocity, as we see in the meeting, in the exchange between Jaime and Kayce Dutton. Illustrates—the power reciprocity has to trigger feelings of indebtedness even when faced with an uninvited favor.

And, as Dennis T. Regan, Associate Professor Emeritus, Cornell University, discovered during his research on effects of favor and liking on compliance, this indebtedness occurred irrespective of liking the person who executed the favor.

Reciprocity plays a vital role in the development and continuation of our relationships. It also plays an essential role in our use of persuasion or getting others to adopt (or adapt to) certain behaviors or beliefs.

Here, an important takeaway is that the norm of reciprocity is just one type of social model that has a powerful influence on our behavior.

Albert Bandura, a psychologist, reasoned that reciprocal determinism is a model composed of three factors that influence behavior: the environment, the individual, and the behavior itself.

Our behavior influences and is influenced, he argued, by both our social world and personal characteristics.

These three components, then, are continuously interacting with one another. 

Our environment exerts influence on our behavior, and in turn, our actions play a part in influencing our environment.

We fear change because we can’t anticipate the outcome.

However, staying put (entrapped or siloed), or saying “NO” to change, is riskier than changing. I call this behavior out in the IWB Manifesto.

Whether in your career or a relationship, you risk being left behind if you do not continue to grow.

Organizations, as well as people, resist change. Saying “No” is the single easiest way for both to do just that. 

Normalizing the abnormal (it’s still abnormal!), is not authentic change. Nor is not acting, which is a form of action and change in and of itself.

We channel our desire, as change agents, organizational change practitioners, or communicators, to be genuinely helpful with sponsors and stakeholders.

We inspire them to step outside of their comfort zones (silos, turf wars, tunnel vision, the threat of tribalism, cognitive biases, contextual intelligence). 

To respond to what their eyes cannot see: the awareness and insights on the costs to themselves of not changing or not navigating the currents of change successfully.

The paradox here is that although we reject uncertainty, we have the skills to change and evolve. 

Fear is an emotion that gets in the way—we lose clarity about our potential, including our sensemaking.

Why? Because on the one hand, we are hardwired to resist uncertainty. As research consistently shows us, our brain often prefers a predictable, negative outcome—akin to crystallized behavior and intelligence, over an uncertain one.

On the other hand, our brain is flexible and adaptive—it can be trained to thrive in change—fluid behaviors and intelligence.

In my managing change practice, I help leaders, managers, and employees, discover how their fear of change is based often on narratives or stories (storytelling)—both real and imagined we tell ourselves. 

We narrate our lives often as if we are out of control—we feel as if we are playing a part someone else wrote for us: external locus-of-control, learned helplessness, and normalizing the abnormal (it’s still abnormal!).

Accepting life’s transitory nature (reciprocity) makes us suffer too. We have a hard time moving on or navigating. When a job or a relationship—is over, we gut stuck.

We keep rehashing old narratives or stories, redoing the math (2+2=4), over-and-over-again, expecting different outcomes or results, instead of opening our minds to what’s next.

Our fear of change feeds our aversion to change.

But striving for perfectionism—making our lives an endless scorecard or dashboard on accomplishments—can have an opposite effect.

When we are under pressure, we make more mistakes. We know this, don’t we? Research helps show us where, how, and why.

To become the author of our life starts by reframing our relationship with uncertainty, life’s transitory nature, and perfectionism.

Accepting failure—F’s are the new A’s, which helps us learn to work through and stop subserviently enabling our fear of failure, our aversion to change.

This behavior means accepting vulnerability as a pathway to intimacy with change: taking personal accountability, personal responsibility, and becoming at peace with the pendulum of self-reliance and collective reliance—to authentic change.

When someone or something closes the door, they are also opening a window for you to go through. 

You can analyze the past, but you need to design the future. That is the difference between suffering the future and enjoying it.—Edward de Bono

When we embrace change, we embrace being active rather than passive, being or becoming a change agent rather than normalizing the abnormal (it’s still abnormal!)—more learned helplessness—bias for external locus-of-control versus internal locus-of-control.

In an external locus-of-control—everything about our wellbeing, the future has to do with what and how the external world around us controls, regulates, or navigates our behavioral, emotional, and psychological change—suffering it or enjoying it.

In an internal locus-of-control—everything about our wellbeing, the future has to do with what and how we discover the brilliance inside us—and channel it to navigate between suffering the present and future and enjoying it.

Embracing the need for change, and reciprocity aligns with transitions start with an ending.

New beginnings—new waves of innovation involve new understanding, new attitudes, and new values.

They emerge through a release of energy in a new direction. And a renewed identity.

They begin when organizations—leaders, managers, and employees identify what is over and being left behind.

New beginnings are more about the inner psychological processes organizations are going through to adapt to authentic change.

Not creating silos that exclude the subtle nuances of human dynamics in favor of simplified, often unrealistic behavior changes for the benefit of quick consumption (mindset) at boardroom tables: executive leaders and managers, departments like human resources, project management offices, and IT-business alignment.

Nor reducing behavior change strategies, analyses, reports, and emails to a set of jargon-laced bullet points.

We need a deeper understanding and sensemaking to innovate and break-through. Unfortunately, the opposite is happening.

Do business leaders and their line managers truly need abridged, envisioned simplified versions of strategies, analyses, and reports regarding behavior changes for quick consumption? 

Or, is this doing more harm than good?

How smart do I want my workers to be or become?

This focus is the critical question, and issue, our leaders, organizational change agents, and communicators, should be asking in this COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

Abundance is a dance with reciprocity—what we can give, what we can share, and what we receive in the process.
—Terry Tempest Williams

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