Friday, 26 July 2013

Why change? Staying stuck is more productive.

In the past couple weeks, I've been reflecting on how many people I know at present who are feeling stuck. They face big dilemmas and and are unsure of the way forward. For some it is being out of work and trying to plan the next direction, for others it is coping with grief after the death of someone close, and for many it is the daily demands of a job that leaves them overwhelmed and unhappy.

The impetus to plan a change is the logical response
when we believe we can control our own destiny.

The impetus to plan a change, or a response to the change that is happening to us,  is the logical response when we believe we can control our own destiny. At this point in the dilemma a lot of "shoulds" emerge--"I should figure out what I really want to do," "I should make more of an effort to meet people," I should update my profile on Linked In at least!"

Or should you?

A couple of decades ago when I completed my master's in Organizational Psychology, my focus was on "Change Management and Process Consultation."  Change was about envisioning the Future State, objectively assessing the Current State, and planning the phases of change to reach the desired Future State.  Of course those clever professors at Columbia University were quick to point out that there were all kinds of challenges along the way, not least of which was our own difficulty as consultants in seeing things without bias, and the ways in which clients respond to a "change agent."

Lately I've done some further study in Gestalt theory and its application to Executive Coaching.  Arnold Beisser, in his article "The Paradoxical Theory of Change" tells us:

Change occurs when one becomes what he is,
not when he tries to become what he is not. 

Initially, I had two reactions to this statement.  First, I was drawn to its simplicity and the feeling of peace that accompanies the idea of being ourselves.  Second, I wondered how this contrary statement could fit with goal setting, business planning, and the results-oriented world that we work in.  I wanted to explore how it could.  

With each client and each friend that I've spoken with in the last few weeks, I've kept this thought in mind while listening to what is going on for them.  Here is a bit of what I've seen.
  • One person during our one-to-one time together allowed himself to be truly angry with a peer, rather than skipping ahead to planning how he could work around her poor performance.  By staying in the moment, being himself in his anger, he discovered that what he wanted to ask of her was really quite simple and that he could do it without difficulty or ill-will toward her.
  • Another person had struggled with some feedback and a reorganisation.  The boss was demanding he change.  By owning his reality in the situation, and looking at the boss's reality, he was able to look at things objectively.  When meeting with the boss, he stayed in the moment and was himself, and a more creative solution emerged.  He is now motivated to incorporate new ways of working with his team while retaining the strengths that have always made him a good leader.
  • Two people, each experiencing a loss--for one a job, the other a death--both dreaded having to put on a brave face for a social gathering.  By being themselves in their current reality, not hiding, and not pretending, they found they were open to others in a new way and the other guests were drawn to them for their humour and their presence.  Both made new friends and new job contacts have emerged for the one who is looking.
What these people have in common is that they allowed themselves to be in the moment, acknowledging what makes them stuck and allowing themselves to be aware of their emotions about the situation.  Having thus looked inwards with insight, they now can look outwards more clearly.  With their deeper self-awareness they are more equipped to understand the reality of others, and to keep that understanding as a separate yet equal entity to their own.   A sense of calm and a restorative strength emerges which enables one to be in that difficult situation and still be oneself.  Thus we then are more alert to opportunity, and to new ways of looking at the situation, and forward movement is the natural outcome.

Current State and Future State change management does work, but too many of us, fuelled with a drive for results, focus on the Future and on planning how to get there.  Beisser's Paradoxical Theory of Change teaches us that you can't develop a good plan without out first fully exploring the present thinking and emotions, both as individuals and as organisations.  

Victoria Hall, Executive Coach
Founder of Talent Futures

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