Employing Differences

Employing Differences, Episode 34: What do we need to be prepared for?

January 05, 2021 Karen Gimnig & Paul Tevis
Employing Differences
Employing Differences, Episode 34: What do we need to be prepared for?
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Employing Differences
Employing Differences, Episode 34: What do we need to be prepared for?
Jan 05, 2021
Karen Gimnig & Paul Tevis

"If we're trying to change something, what do we need to be prepared for coming along with that change?"

Listen on the website and read the transcript

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Show Notes Transcript

"If we're trying to change something, what do we need to be prepared for coming along with that change?"

Listen on the website and read the transcript

Watch this episode on YouTube

Karen:

Welcome to Employing Differences, a conversation exploring the collaborative space between individuals.

Paul:

I'm Paul Tevis.

Karen:

And I'm Karen Gimnig.

Paul:

Each episode, we start with a question, and we see where it takes us. This week's question is, "What do we need to be prepared for?"

Karen:

Well give a little context for this one. What do we need to be prepared for when we're making changes? And we're particularly looking at sort of systemic changes, although I think a lot of this would apply to sort of personal growth types of changes or shifts in behavior. But if we're trying to change something, what do we need to be prepared for coming along with that change? One of the things that I always think about thinking about that idea of systems is that we are always part of systems like. You know, to echo John Dunne, "No man is an island." But the idea that our patterns of behavior, the ways that we interact with people, there's a part of that that's ours, and there's part of that that's the other person's the other people's and when we try to change our own behavior, other people's behavior is going to be affected by that, and is often going to try to pull us back into our old patterns of behavior. So it's not enough for me to just to decide I want to change something. I have to think about, okay, when I try to behave differently, so for example, I do this a lot with, with my leadership coaching clients, where they say, "Well, I want to be less directive. I really want to give the team room to figure out what it is they want to do." And I say, "Okay. So the pattern that you're interacting with them right now is they look to you to provide direction. And you're saying you want to change that. So if you just stop giving them what to do, what do you think they're likely to do?" And you know, there's usually a moment of, "ahhh.." And I'm like, here's the thing, they're going to try to get you to give them direction. They're going to try to pull you back into that behavior even if cognitively they know they don't want that. They don't want you giving them orders. But the system that has been created by your interactions is going to try to pull itself back into place. And so you need to be prepared for that. Yeah, there's a parallel here that I'm thinking of when I was trained in teaching elementary school. One of the things they told us is, if there's a behavior that you don't like, the most effective way to make it go away is to ignore it completely. That if it doesn't get the feedback, if it's not getting the response that it's wanting, which is sort of what you're talking about, and this is mostly not conscious but the way that game works, if you're going to use that method of ignore the behavior until it goes away, what happens is the behavior gets bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger. Andthen goes away. It doesn't build and then retreat slowly. It builds and builds and builds until that something in that unconscious mind goes, "Oh, that's not gonna work anymore. Okay, stop." And if you can tolerate the bigger, bigger, bigger, then you get to that reward of the behavior goes away. That's not always easy to do. And I'd be cautious in collaborative spaces of being too manipulative in that way, the way that teachers are. But I think there's a lesson in that for the systems that you're talking about of, we're going to keep trying, and we might even keep trying, and kind of bigger ways to like, I'm going to keep getting into that comfortable place, or I'm going to try all my strategies, and I might try them a little bigger and a little bigger, to get back to that momentum. And then there's like this tip moment, where all of a sudden, "Oh, that's not what I'm supposed to do anymore. And, wow, it actually feels really good to not do that. I didn't expect that." And this is all mostly happening unconscious. And so I think one of the things you're pointing to Paul is to get conscious about it.

Paul:

Yeah, one of the things that sort of bigger and bigger and bigger until all of a sudden it tips over reminds me of is the fact that again, thinking about things as systems which is something I encourage people to do is recognizing that systems have lots of nonlinear behavior. Like we tend to think about changes happening in just a straight line. And spoilers: It doesn't. But systems in particular have these nonlinear behavior responses. So we think, oh, if we want to move from A to B, and B is going to be better than A, then it's going to be a linear better the more we do it. No, usually it gets worse, when we start to do something before it gets better. And so what you're kind of talking about that is that, yeah, if you start to try to change your own behavior to ignore this behavior that the other person is doing, that behavior is likely to get worse before it gets better. And that's not a sign you're doing it wrong. It's actually a sign you're doing it right. And that's another thing. So part of the being prepared is recognizing that that is likely to happen. And as you said, moving it from the unconscious to the conscious, because if that normally what would happen is, if I go and I do the thing, and the response that I get to my new behavior is worse than the response to my old behavior, I'm going to stop. I'm going to change something else. I'm going to give up. And it's not a sign you're doing wrong. It's a sign you're doing it right. But it means that I need to be ready for that. So it's not just the cognitive thinking through, "Oh, this is going to get worse. Or "This is going to be hard, the group is going to respond in some way." I also need to ask myself, "How am I going to want to respond emotionally? What is likely in me going to get triggered by those responses? And then how do I need to deal with my own emotional response to this change? To the to the result of my attempt to change behavior?"

Karen:

Now I'm gonna predict that part of your emotional response always is going to be some level of discomfort, anxiety; because we think that when we go from system A to system B, that we stopped being in system A and we start being in system B. And that's actually not true. What happens when we want to go from system A to system B is that we go from being in system A that however dysfunctional is we know it, it's comfortable, it's predictable, may not even be comfortable, but it's at least predictable. And there's comfort in that. And we go from being in system A to being in a space of transition, of change. And transition and change are reliably stress producing. They are reliably anxiety producing. So there's a tendency to say, well, we stopped doing A, and we started doing B and now everybody's stressed and anxious and you know, it's not working. If we can get real about we're a ways yet from being in B. What we're in is the transition. And in the transition, it's normal and expected to feel anxious and uncertain and stressed. Then we can work with that in a productive way, which by the way, stress can often be a productive thing.

Paul:

Absolutely. Recognizing that there is energy there, right, that there is a stress response that's being produced is, is a sign that there's actually energy to create a change. Mary Beth O'Neill, who I've done a lot of coaching training and work with talks about acute versus chronic anxiety. And so she says that chronic anxiety is the feeling you have of things are not right. Like we need to change things. It's that kind of going on all the time and it's the thing that motivates you to want to make a change. But what happens is that the acute anxiety is the thing that happens as you're trying to make it. And it can be so acute, that you can feel like I just would rather go back to the old thing. And so a lot of the development work is about learning to hold and cope with and withstand, to develop the stamina to work through the acute anxiety of change, because it can get us to a better place. And so it's why almost all of this work, yes, there's the cognitive we need to plan through how we're going to do these things. And we need to think about what are people likely to respond. But so much of this work is this sort of internal development work of, "How do I need to cope with the response I'm going to have? What can I do to build that stamina?" Because if I cave under that pressure, and I go back to my old behaviors, then one, I've gotten all stressed out about from nothing, but two, where we're back where we started. And so that's the thing that I work with a lot of people. We sometimes draw the distinction between planning for change, which is the cognitive work, and preparing for change, which is the emotional work

Karen:

Yeah, and I think one of the most common responses, even if I'm not going to give up on the change the next most common response to stress is to stuff it. "I'm not stressed I'm a believer, in this it's all going to be good right, I'm Mr. Optimism, this is gonna keep..." right? And the thing is there's only one person you're likely to fool. And that's yourself. And so now you're not only getting the stress response of the people around you to change and a new thing in the transition. You're also getting their stress response to your covert stress. Your anxiety that because they know it's there, but they don't know where it's coming from. So I think the more that I can name, this is what I'm doing, and that I can name it publicly which is vulnerable, right? Especially if I'm the person saying, "Hey, I said, we should make this change, and we're making this change, and it's scaring the pee out of me." That feels like then it's going to undo the work that I did to get the change on board, right? They're all going to turn on me and say, "Well, obviously, this is a terrible idea, we should throw it out." And maybe that will happen. But I think it's a risk, it's worth taking. Because ultimately, if you're transparent about it, and we all can be scared in it together, or anxious in it together or stressed in it together, odds are, we can minimize that transition period and get to success.

Paul:

And that's why the thing that I advise people on is: no, not only kind of doing that inner work, maybe that's what the coach, maybe that's with a another colleague or mentor or something like that. But then also having this conversation about the dynamics of change with the group and say, "Hey, this thing is coming. If we're going to want to do this thing, we I've noticed that one of the ways that I enable the behavior that I don't want..." So going back to the idea of the leader who's very directive, right having a conversation with the team, and being able to say, "I know that I am more directive than I want to be, and here's why I think it is worth changing that. I also know that if I just stop doing that. You are all likely to do these things." And at first, those people are going to go, "No, we wouldn't..." and then they would go, "Oh, actually, we probably would do those things." Right? And then also be able to say, "And I am likely to have this stress response to it. How can we as a group be ready for that? What do we want to do about that?" And, the level of transparency where the group can because now they've at least talked about it, it's not a surprise. When it happens, you can say, "Remember that conversation we had about how I was going to try to stay out of things, and then I would probably jump in when I didn't mean to? And I asked you to tell me, 'Hey, you're jumping in?'" Now I can be reminded of that, and I can go back to that place. And so starting to create some awareness that this will happen. And maybe some ideas for what you might do when it does happen, is one of the things that groups can really do to prepare for change.

Karen:

I think that probably brings us close to wrapping it up. So what I'm hearing is our overall sort of summary here is when you go to change a system, that a lot of things happen as a result of that. And a lot of them live in the realm of sort of stress/anxiety kinds of emotions. And that if we can be aware that we won't go straight from A to B. We'll go A, transition point with some stress and anxiety attached to that, and then eventually get to B. Be prepared for that. Have thought through that. Have thought through how we want to handle that. And be also aware of how each of us is doing that independently and can do our own sort of internal work around it, and an awareness of how that impacts each other. And how that preparatory work can really open up the possibility of safe, meaningful feedback as we get through. That that really sets us up for success.

Paul:

Absolutely. Well, that's gonna do it for us for today. Until next time, I'm Paul Tevis.

Karen:

And I'm Karen Gimnig. And this has been Employing Differences.