Take Charge of Change

Do you have the characteristics you need to handle what the world throws your way?

How to Accelerate Personal CHANGE-ability
and Master Resistance


The ability to manage complexity and master change has never been more important, given our fast-paced, non-stop lives. The first step is to understand the built-in mechanisms that make change so difficult, and which serve as the source of our natural resistance when faced with something new. Based on this we can distill five characteristics, or CHANGE-abilities, that enable us to better adapt to whatever the world throws our way. Finally, we can learn and apply specific strategies and tactics to enhance our CHANGE-ability.


“They’re going to reorganize us AGAIN! This can’t be true. We just reorganized six months ago. I’m still not sure who I report to. They really need to get their act together. We can’t get anything done, we’re so busy trying to figure out who’s responsible for what around here. If I weren’t close to vesting I would just get out. But what choice do I really have? I guess I’ll just have to go along one more time. I’ll just keep my head down and hope that I don’t get hit with anything flowing downhill.”

Ever been in a situation where the environment changed without your permission? Your initial reaction is usually to push back against the change. However you reacted to the above story, wouldn’t you like to be better prepared for changes you didn’t anticipate? Would you like to have a better way to manage the complexity of your life, and understand why it can be so difficult to get yourself through a difficult personal change?

If so, then read on.

One thing that most of us know intuitively, if not explicitly, is that the world is more complex than it’s ever been. Especially at work, many of us have to deal with one change on top of another. Add onto that the demands we face outside of work, like ferrying kids around, taking part in school activities, and spending time with friends, and you’ve got a mess. Most people I talk to say that there’s more change in their lives, and it’s coming at them faster than ever before.

But hasn’t change always been with us? Well, yes and no. We’ve been adapting since before we were standing on two feet. The concept of change has been around for a long time. It was Heraclitus in the 6th Century BC who pointed out that that we never step in same river twice. A little later Plato and Socrates said that the universe IS change, and stability is an illusion. On the other side of the world, Lao Tzu, a venerated Chinese philosopher, wrote the Tao Te Ching, or Book of Changes, also in the 6th Century BC. So the concept of change has been around for a while. As has the fact of change. Inventions such as the wheel, plow, printing press and atom bomb demonstrate that change has always been with us. However, there’s good evidence that change and complexity are intensifying exponentially. For example, innovation is accelerating. It took 55 years for the automobile to reach a ¼ of the US population. It’s taken a mere 7 years for the cell phone. An eight-fold acceleration!

We can also quantify how culture is changing. For over 99% of recorded human history, or roughly the past 50,000 years, we lived as low-density foragers or farmers in communities of a few dozen people. The shift to more complexity in our societies can be seen in the number of artifacts, or distinct “products” produced by a society. The researcher Julian Steward has shown that early ethnographers documented 3,000 to 6,000 cultural elements among the native peoples of western North America. By contrast, the U.S. Army landed 500,000+ types of materiel at Casablanca in World War II.

For men between the ages of 45 and 54 the median years of job tenure in 1983 was 12.8; in 1998 it was 9.4 years. Decisions made today have much more far-reaching consequences than they had just 25 years ago.

So change is accelerating. And increasing our personal “change-ability” is a way we can manage it. First, let’s define what we mean by change, and understand why it can be so painful.

Types Of Change

Let’s look at change along three dimensions: source, duration and impact. In terms of source, there are changes we proactively choose, and those we react to. Duration is how long the change is likely to last. Will it be short duration and have a definite end, or longer, possibly with no clear end in sight? At one end of the spectrum are those changes that are relatively fleeting; say going from reading mystery to reading science fiction. Similar, but somewhat more lasting, are changes to our habits, such as the route we take to work or whether we shower in the morning or evening. Personal growth changes, such as altering our attitudes, have yet more impact. Say we used to believe that others had our best interests at heart, but experience showed us that people are just out for themselves. Finally, we can undergo a transformation, in which our experience of reality is fundamentally different. Such a shift occurred in our sense of security and stability after the dropping of the atomic bombs in WWII. A near-death experience can radically alter our view of the meaning of life.

No matter the source or duration, some changes have a big impact on us, and some don’t. Starting to exercise is a small change that is typically of short duration. Whereas changing religions is a long process with a significant impact. These are examples of proactive changes…ones we’ve chosen.

Then there are the changes that we react. These are usually tougher to deal with. They include external events, such as our company moving to a new location, and natural disasters. These usually disrupt our lives more than the first type of change. We are less prepared for them. The degree of impact of a specific change will vary from person to person, and even depending on what’s happening in our lives at the time the change occurs. For example, I might find it a lot tougher to deal with a layoff if my marriage is shaky.

Part of the reason these changes are so difficult is that we don’t understand why we react the way we do. Let’s see what we can learn that might help us increase our change-ability.

Roots of Behavior

What’s the one word that comes to mind when you think of people’s reaction to change?

RESISTANCE usually pops up first.

I’ll make a bold statement. People don’t resist change!!! Lots of research backs this up. Actually, we do resist something related to change. It’s LOSS. While there are many things that we don’t like to lose, three are the hardest: self-identity, relationships and control.

Let’s tackle these one at a time. SELF-IDENTITY is our basic sense of who we are and where we fit in the world. It’s made up of things such as skills, self-confidence, responsibility, sense of freedom and our basic values. For example, I may think I’m a kind person who really tries to help others. Also, I believe I’m a skilled communicator and have the ability to provide for my family and make a positive impact on the world.

Second, RELATIONSHIPS are important to us for a few reasons. Sticking together has good survival value. We’re more likely to eat if we hunt lions with our pals Morg and Droob than if we go alone. In addition to survival value, it’s more enjoyable to sing around the campfire and retire to my cave with someone than it is to do it alone. Pulling together to specialize is even better: “You make the grog and I’ll bring the lion meat and we’ll eat really well.” That’s why we band together in organizations. It’s a lot easier to build an airplane with some help. There’s a paradox, though. While systems specialize to cope with growth and to respond to complexity in the environment, they bring with them rules, roles and norms for how things will be done. These things serve as barriers to adaptability.

Each of us takes on certain roles in a group. If I see myself as a harmonizer, who smoothes things over when there is tension, or as a leader who gets others to follow, I’ll resist having the status, esteem, etc., that comes with these taken away. We come to expect that others will act the way they always have. We’re upset when these patterns change because we knew what the rules were. And we don’t want to lose the familiar surroundings, inclusion, respect, and even affection we get from relationships.

There is a deeper reason that losing or facing changes in important relationships is hard. The saying “parting is such sweet sorrow” points to this…separating from others taps into a well-known anxiety that we have as babies and toddlers: separation anxiety. Subconsciously we equate abandonment with death. There are a whole bunch of emotions attached to this anxiety that are called up when separating. We’ve usually not aware that this is going on. And it can exert a very powerful influence on our feelings about losing important relationships.

We face a big problem after we’re born: how do we get the rest of the world to do what we want them to do? Crying helps. But eventually we’re left with the question: how do we get others to act in our interest? One of the most difficult thing for us to lose is CONTROL. This loss takes many forms. I don’t want to lose control over my sense of security, work habits, working conditions, priorities, privileges, status, and ability to provide for myself and my family.

Our resistance to losing control comes from deep within us. We’ve got an instinctual need to be able to control our source of food and to not become food for others. This relates to our fight / flight instinct; a natural reaction to potential threat. What’s key is that our need for control, and our resistance to losing it, is instinctual, not reasoned.

But face it. When was the last time you were in a fight or flight situation? (“Have that report on my desk by 5:00 p.m. or I’ll throw you to the lions.”) These days, we ensure control through autonomy and power. My autonomy allows me freedom to choose what’s going to ensure my survival. The more power I have, the more I’ll be able to control my source of food (and growth, and pleasure) and prevent you from controlling them. These are based on powerful instincts, but they’re different. They can be reasoned responses that we choose. I say “can be” because we often don’t think about how we use our autonomy and power.

These are powerful instincts driving us to crave stability and the known. There are other elemental forces at work inside us…

The Power of Beliefs

People have a natural comfort level. We call it “the status quo”. Think of a thermostat set between 65 and 75 degrees. When the external temperature is within that range the heating/cooling system is off. It only reacts when the temperature’s below 65 or above 75. One of the most important ways we maintain the status quo is through beliefs.

Picture yourself as if you were one of our human ancestors on the savanna. One day, a group of us is out hunting, and we come across a certain stand of trees with lions in it. The first time we get to the trees we’re surprised by the lions, and a few us don’t make it back. The next time we’re a little less surprised, and maybe just lose a few limbs. This is good. We’re learning.

Fortunately for us the reasoning part of our brains is still developing. So around the campfire at night we talk about this lion business and agree that lions tend to stay in the same place. We might even generalize and agree that dangerous animals stay in the same place. What we’re doing is anticipating the world without actual data from out senses. We’re creating beliefs. This causes us to avoid the stand of trees with lions in it the next time we’re out hunting. When all of us make it back home with all of our limbs, it seems that our beliefs have good survival value. But they’re tricky things, these beliefs…

Along comes Morg from a different tribe. He says, “Hey, did you know that snakes don’t stay in the same place.” Given your hard-won belief you reply, “Morg, you’re wrong. Dangerous animals stay in the same place. We know this to be true.” The next time you’re surprised by a snake in a new place, the survival value of your belief loses a little luster.

Let’s fast-forward to the present era. IBM serves as a great example. A few years ago there was a strongly held belief in the company that large amounts of data would always be handled by mainframes, it’s main business. It took several years and many billions of dollars for IBM to change its belief when the PC came along. On a smaller scale, you can probably identify managers today who are still operating on the belief, formed years ago, that managing by fear brings higher productivity. This no longer works so well. (If it ever did.)

The tough thing about beliefs is that they’re below the surface. What we actually see in response to change are behaviors or emotions. When we try to implement new software or reorganize a department, people act in certain ways. Their verbal responses show us their strong, usually negative, feelings. Figure 4 shows how behaviors, emotions and beliefs are tied together.

Beliefs Model

Here’s a model of how our beliefs form and influence what we do day to day.

  • We have a life experience. [As a child, we try to put together a puzzle. Our parent pushes us to do it faster and gets frustrated when we don’t get it right.]
  • Based on that life experience, we come up with beliefs about ourselves and assumptions about others. [I’m not quick enough. My parent doesn’t like me.]
  • Later in life, we reinforce this with self-talk. [“Why can’t I ever do it right the first time? They always expect too much.”]
  • This self-talk brings up emotions [frustration, anger, disappointment], which lead to
  • Behaviors [less risk-taking, only take on easier tasks].
  • Decisions is italicized because sometimes we consciously decide to act, and often we re-act based on emotions, self-talk, etc.,

This brings me to a story about a researcher exploring artificial intelligence. Each day, the researcher came into her lab, turned on her computer and worked on programming it to think like a human. Each day when she turned on the computer, she looked for signs of intelligence, and got only reactions to her input.

Then, one day the researcher came in, sat down, booted up the computer, and knew she had succeeded. On the screen it said: “Let me tell you a story”. Humans are unique in the animal kingdom in their ability to construct stories. (Actually, there is some evidence that dolphins and primates also have this ability. But they tend to be really boring: “Ate a few bananas, picked bugs off my friend, swung around a little”.) Take some time to really listen to the conversations around you. Notice how many of them are stories.

Stories help us make meaning out of our past and understand the motivations for others’ past actions. We reinforce our beliefs for ourselves, and convey them to each other, through stories. Say your company announces that it no longer is going to need the work you do. One story you could tell yourself is that the executives don’t know what they’re doing, they’re making a big mistake, and you’ll never get another similar job. Another story is that the executives must have good reasons for their decision, they’ve chosen not to share their reasons with you, and it’s a great time to finally write the screenplay that’s been bubbling inside you for years. Same event. Two very different story lines. We stories call the stories we tell ourselves “self-talk”.

In helping others through change, we often focus on changing external circumstances (Life Experiences in our model) and Behaviors. These are the most accessible and the least threatening to deal with. It’s easier to say to someone, “just play with the new software for a while and you’ll see how good it is” than it is to get at their underlying beliefs about why new experiences are threatening. Unfortunately this approach is likely to result in compliance rather than commitment. Since the roots of behavior are deeper, the behavioral “weed” will just grow back if we don’t uncover the “roots” of self-talk and belief.

Try this simple exercise. Lean forward, slump your shoulders, put your head down, frown, and mumble to yourself five times in a row, “I feel negative and insecure. I’m a useless and powerless victim of events.” How do you feel?

Now sit up straight, pull your shoulders back, grin, and say in a strong voice, “I feel confident and positive. I’m effective and in control.” Feel any different? Many people do. If you don’t it’s probably because you’ve spent 20, 30 or more years developing your current beliefs, self-talk, etc., These brief journeys we’ve taken inside ourselves and back in time start to explain why change is so hard. It’s deeply rooted in our nature and life experiences.

The stories we each tell ourselves are filtered through our unique perceptions of the world. In turn, the stories reinforce those perceptions. Perceptions, in turn, are formed of our life experiences, culture, gender and a lot of other idiosyncratic factors. It’s not often that we’re aware of the perceptual filters that we use. A commonly cited example is an American executive making a presentation in Japan. Say she notices the Japanese member of the audience nodding their heads while she’s talking. Her perception would naturally be that the audience agrees with her. Otherwise why would they nod. Well, it turns out that in Japan, nodding doesn’t mean agreement, but just that the information being conveyed is understood. The executive will be surprised when she operates based on the assumption that the audience has agreed, only to find that they haven’t.

Limited perceptions can be useful. We choose to pay attention to those things that help us navigate through the complexity of our world. Perceptions allow us to make sense of what happens to us and how we feel about it. But we can get in trouble when the world changes and we’re still operating on old perceptions, assumptions or beliefs.

Reactions to Change

There are three basic story lines for how we’ll respond to change. The first we’ll call Evade. Folks who tell themselves this story dig in their heels or run like hell when confronted with change. The next is Endure. These folks take a “wait and see” attitude, saying “this too shall pass”. Finally there’s Embrace. Entrepreneurs typically tell themselves this story. These people tend to willingly take risks and look for new challenges. These three stories are not separate. They’re really points on a continuum.

The first step in increasing your CHANGE-ability is to honestly recognize which story you are most likely to tell yourself when confronted with major change, and decide if that’s where you really want to be. Take a minute to locate yourself on the continuum. Now, think of another person that you know who’s been through a big change. What’s their story? As you do this keep in mind that there are life experiences, beliefs, feelings, and behaviors related to each story.


We’ve looked at the roots of individual behavior and resistance, and the most typical reactions to change. Now what do we do? What do people who are really good self-changers do to move through changes they’ve chosen and prepare themselves for change that’s out of their control? The good news is that research across a number of fields reveals clear themes on the characteristics of people who are better at anticipating and managing change. These characteristics, which I call CHANGE-abilities, are: Grounded, Open, Tenacious, Ordered and Connected.

  • Grounded means having solid self-knowledge, self-esteem and self-efficacy, or belief in ones’ own effectiveness.
  • Open is being flexible, future-oriented and agreeable.
  • Tenacious means clarity of purpose and consistent focus on achieving it.
  • Ordered has to do with ability to see underlying patterns and being organized.
  • Connected is the ability to establish and maintain solid relationships with others.

We’ll look at each in more detail.

People who are GROUNDED know themselves and are confident of their own abilities. They have a deep, abiding sense of what is truly important in their lives; what values they will fulfill and which goals they will achieve to give their lives meaning. More importantly, they have a firm belief that they are worthy and capable of realizing them. A person who is Grounded continually tests events and circumstances for the degree to which these are going to help them achieve their goals and values. Grounded people are willing to take a stand for what they believe in.

Grounded people are “glass half full” kinds of people. They are positive, feel in control of what happens around them and believe in their own ability to manage situations.

There are two senses of the OPEN characteristic. The first is internal, and has to do with options and alternatives. It is being open to future possibilities, rather than dwelling on past problems or failures. The second sense is more outwardly oriented. In interactions with others, Open means being good-natured and tolerant, or “open” to the way other people see things, to their ideas, beliefs and values. It is being open to diverse points of view and backgrounds. Open people are willing to explore new territory.

TENACIOUS means being proactive to achieve what is truly important. It is “stick-to-it-ivness”, persistence in the face of obstacles and a willingness to tackle tough challenges in pursuit of important values and goals. There is also a sense of continually moving forward and striving, of trying to improve. Being tenacious also means being willing to lead the way for others,.

There is both a strategic and tactical sense of being ORDERED. More strategically it’s being able to see how things fit together; seeing the underlying order of things, or the connections under the surface. This is the more important aspect. The everyday sense is being able to prioritize and put things in order (be organized).

A key element of being CONNECTED is the capacity to be, and be seen as, trusting and sincere. Next to being Grounded, this is one of the most important CHANGE-Abilities. It is an ability to establish and maintain solid reciprocal relationships based on mutual trust and sincerity. Central to this is the ability to rely on others and let them rely on you.

There are two ways these CHANGE-abilities can be useful. First, knowing which are your strengths before you’re in the midst of a change gives you time and focus and lets you prepare. Second, you can use the strategies and tactics associated with each CHANGE-ability to move through an especially difficult change more quickly. Before talking specifically about how you might enhance your CHANGE-abilities we’ll first look at the natural phases that people pass through during significant change. It turns out that certain CHANGE-abilities are more useful during specific phases.

Phases of Change

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross did groundbreaking work on stages of change in her research on how people handle death and dying . She found that we experience predictable emotions in a predictable sequence when faced with trauma. Later research shows that people go through similar stages in experiences such as breaking drug habits, psychotherapy and organizational transformation. Again, there are common themes that give us a roadmap for major change.

First there’s the perception that something is happening. A main feature of this perception is our interpretation of how it relates to us based on our unique view of the world. We react based on how similar things have impacted us in the past, our life experiences and our general experience with change. This is typically an immediate emotional response; commonly denial. Next, we accept that the change is going to occur and impact us personally. We start to explore what the change means to us, and what we might do. We prepare by figuring out how we’re going to move forward through the change. We also get a better sense of what we want in the future, and plan for how we’ll achieve it.

As we act, we actively work to modify our emotions, our thoughts, and our interactions with others. We demonstrate new or modified behaviors, and practice the skills needed in the future. In reflection, we take time to question beliefs that went along with old thoughts, emotions and behaviors, and form new beliefs necessary to be successful in the “new world”. We find what worked and what didn’t, and make choices about the future. It’s common to relapse in this phase. We’ve tried things with varying degrees of success, and maybe slid back into old, more comfortable ways. We integrate our learnings, beliefs, new behaviors, etc., into a new view of the world and a new way of interacting. We achieve a new status quo, having modified our homeostatic setpoints.

Here’s an example:

My company has just announced that it’s moving its headquarters from New York City to Columbus, Ohio. DAMN. Columbus is such a hick town. Based on my last move this is a major hassle. They can’t be serious…they’ll certainly keep some jobs in NYC. How could they make a decision like this without thinking of the personal impact it will have on employees? How can I just uproot my whole life?

As I get more information about Columbus and about the assistance the company will provide, I start to shift. Maybe I can get a decent pizza in Columbus. But what about my family and friends? How many of my pals in the company are going? I’ll have to spend some time talking to folks. On the other hand, I don’t plan to stay with the company forever. I can move back NYC in a few years.

I guess it’s not so bad after all. The company’s offering a generous relocation allowance, and I can get a really nice house and make a killing on it when I sell. [Note that up until this point, the reactions, thoughts and decisions have to do with ME. I intellectually understand the benefits to the company. But I don’t care. You’re asking ME to uproot MY life.]

I’ve finally decided to go, so I better start to get ready. I have to get more information on Columbus and on what the company intends to change when it gets there. I need to look for a house, contact people who’ve lived in or visited Columbus and line up the resources I’ll need to relocate. Also, I better build bridges for myself to people who I’ll leave behind who I don’t want to lose touch with, and to people in Columbus I want to start associating with. I’m actually getting excited about seeing a new place, and feeling a sense of relief that I don’t have to put myself on the job market. Maybe this move won’t be so bad after all!

Well, it’s moving day. What a hassle. Maybe this wasn’t really a good idea. I hate the thought of leaving the apartment it took so much time and care to decorate. And there are people I worked with in New York whom I’m really sad to leave. Also, I knew where everything was, and am tired just thinking about having to find all of the same things, like cleaners, tailors, shopping, etc., On the other hand, the company has provided a lot of information on services available. And I have a distant cousin who lives in the mid-west, and has friends in Columbus who are happy to show me around. I’ve also discovered that people there are very friendly and willing to help out. The company has thrown a party and arranged a tour of the area where the new headquarters will be, so a bunch of us can support each other in learning about the new services. Also, I’m going to be doing pretty much the same job, and know a lot of the people I have to interact with. I get everything packed up, settle my affairs in New York, and start to choose furniture, etc., for my new house and office. Finally the move.


It wasn’t so bad after all. It’s actually refreshing to have some old and some new people to socialize with. The company has changed some outdated practices, and is actually asking employees how to make it a better place to work. Of course, it’s still disrupted my routines. The upside is that I’ve gotten myself out of some ruts I’ve been stuck in. My new house and my neighbors are great.

Finally, I’ve learned something about myself. The move was actually kind of fun. I like being in a new place when I have some support and help. Next time will definitely be easier. I know I need to get information sooner, and look at both the positives and negatives before making a decision.

Accelerating CHANGE-ability

Here is a brief list of tactics you can use to enhance your own and other’s CHANGE-ability, listed by phase of change.

– Observe, Interpret
– Seek understanding, Question

– Choose, Inquire
– Pursue control, Mourn

– Clarify values
– Envision, Imagine
– Enhance decision-making, Get support
– Restructure environment, Seek new cues

– Contract, Resolve
– Reinforce

– Use relaxation
– Re-interpret

Rather than go through each tactic, let’s look at some underlying strategies for each CHANGE-ability. One basic strategy is to re-frame our idea of what’s possible and challenges we face. This means questioning and seeking alternatives to our basic assumptions. We can also stretch our conception of what’s possible for ourselves, and the choices we can make. Next, increasing focus on what is truly important is essential to knowing how to we want to respond to a change in our environment. Related to this, we need to clarify for ourselves who we really are, what we stand for and the roles we want to play in life. Finally, we should develop an enhanced capacity to communicate with others in order to establish relationships based on trust and mutual regard.

Self-esteem and self-efficacy are two critical components of being Grounded. From our Beliefs model in Figure 4 we know that self-talk is a key to these two elements. By RE-FRAMING past and current situations, we can generate options for how we’ll handle them differently in the future. We can also re-frame events in terms of how we can shape them to more fully realize our deepest values. As Aristotle has said: “The origin of moral action – is choice, and (the origin) of choice is desire and reasoning with a view to an end.”

Try this exercise. Think back to one specific work setting… imagine what it feels like and sounds like: what life’s like there. What things, if they were to happen more, would be more supportive of your growth & development? Don’t edit your thoughts by what’s possible or realistic. Now draw a table like the one in Figure 9 and write in the statements in the top boxes. Put your answer to the previous question in the lower left box under A. Then fill in the bottom boxes under B, C and D in order, by completing the statements. The responses shown are examples.

Figure 1 – Beliefs Exercise

A. I’m committed to the value of. B. What I do / don’t do to more fully realize “A”. C. My other commitments that get in the way. D. My Assumptions

Sharing concerns, issues, fears in a true dialogue with someone.

 Making more connections with people.

Hold myself back by trying to be too “buttoned up”.

Not being rejected

Being seen as professional.

This is the world.

If I’m really myself, people won’t like me.

In the bottom box on the far right we start to get at some of our own deep beliefs that impact how we show up in world. Bringing these to the surface allows us to question them. We can make choices about which to keep, alter or stop. We can also start to understand the commitments we’ve made that get in the way of realizing what’s truly important to us.

To become more Open we need to STRETCH our routine perceptions and interpretations. For example, next time you find yourself explaining why you think something happened to you, grab a pen and paper (or Palm Pilot). Write down three alternative explanations: one positive, one negative, one neutral. Then write out three questions you can ask to confirm which is the most likely. This does a few things for you. It helps you expand your “homeostatic set-point”. You can become more aware of patterns in how you talk to yourself, so you can decide whether they’re helpful. And you get a chance to do what athletes do to achieve peak performance, by practicing skills before you need them.

Tenacity has FOCUS as an essential component. First, we have to have something to focus on. This means having a clear, positive, preferred future to aim for. One way to do this is to write your own eulogy. Without putting a lot of thought into it, write down one paragraph which describes the positive impact you’ve had in your life to be read at your funeral. Then define one short-term objective that will start you down the path to what you’ve described. If hopes are aspirational statements that pull you forward, objectives are specific, short-term aims that move you down the path. This leads to the second component of focus. This is constantly testing and confirming how your plans will enable you to achieve your hopes and objectives.

The force-field analysis from Kurt Lewin can help with this. On a sheet of paper, write in your goal on the far right side. Then, draw a line down the middle. On the left side of the line, put all of the things that help you reach your goal. These are called driving forces. On the right of the line, write everything that might get in the way. These restraining forces. You can put an arrow next to each “force” to show how strong it is. This provides a graphic view of the things that can help and hinder you. Based on this, you can develop plans to enhance the driving forces and neutralize the restraining forces. This leads naturally to our next CHANGE-ability.

You can use the Personal Balance Sheet to become more ordered. Draw a square on a sheet of paper, and then put a horizontal line and a vertical line through the middle of the box. (You should have four equal squares inside, two on top and two on the bottom.) In the top left box, write in the positive aspects of your current situation. In the box under this write in the negative features of your current situation. In the right-hand boxes you put the positive (top) and negative (bottom) elements of your situation after a change you’ll be going through. Write all of behaviors, emotions, assumptions and outcomes can think of in each quadrant. This enables you to CLARIFY what you want to gain and what you don’t want to lose during a change. For example…

Say I might lose my job as manager in a large company and start my own business as a consultant. Some positive and negative aspects of my present and future positions are:

  • Manager positives: helping others, recognized by executives, happy with my team.
  • Manager negatives: limited autonomy, politics, not enough impact.
  • Consultant positives: help more people, more autonomy, more recognition.
  • Consultant negatives: variable earnings, have to sell self, others’ disapproval of consultants.

Of course, you will have a lot more written in each box. You can refine this by assigning a score to each of the items you’ve listed. Those that are most important to you get a three, those that are less important a two, and the least important, a one.

This exercise can give you a more balanced picture of where you are now. It can illustrate that, in addition to possibly losing some things you hold dear, you have the chance to leave behind less desirable aspects of your present role. You can plan how to build into your future role some of the positives that you currently have, to minimize your losses. Further, you can plan to minimize the negatives of your possible future position.

A deeper sense of the word Ordered relates to seeing underlying patterns, or order, in seemingly disparate events or effects. Say I recognize that an underlying dynamic of the complexity, fragmentation and demands in my life is the explosion of information I have to make decisions about. Knowing this, I might review what’s really important to me and develop some rules of thumb for assessing which the information is most useful in helping me reach my goals. I might also see that the information explosion is partly a result of the increasing specialization in our society. Knowing this, I can work to get clearer on my own wants vs. needs.

Finally, one of the most important CHANGE-abilities is being Connected to others, and having the personal characteristics that establish the trust necessary for others to want to connect to us. The three elements that build trust are past history, positive intent and openness. Being able to COMMUNICATE well is key to all of these.

Past history is straightforward. As the comic strip Ziggy says, “Your future is determined by your past. So be careful what you do in your past.” Of course, we CAN’T change the past. I was recently working with a manager who thought she was being supportive with her staff. Through feedback, she came to understand that their perception of her was very different; they saw her rapid speech and urgent tone as directive and commanding. Knowing how her communications had impacted others, she could choose how she wanted to communicate in the future.

Positive intent is the degree to which you perceive that I act with your best interests at heart. It doesn’t mean being self-less, but taking both my interests and yours into account when doing something that will affect you. To enhance others’ perception of your positive intent, use the platinum rule. Rather than “treating others as I want to be treated”, you “treat others as they want to be treated”. How do you know how they want to be treated? Watch them, and ask! Also, give them choices and involve them in important decisions.

Openness means letting you know my feelings, concerns and hopes. I remember someone telling me that they had trouble trusting me because I tried too hard to be polished and professional. They assumed that there was something I was hiding. You can increase your own openness. The first step is to become aware of your hopes, feelings and concerns. The above activities may help with this. Another thing you can do is to keep a journal, noting the important things that have happened to you and your reactions to them. This allows you to get in touch with your natural response to different situations and people. Then, you can prepare to let others know, in the moment, how a situation or challenge is impacting you.

Two final points:

1) The strategies and tactics to enhance CHANGE-ability have to do with addressing thoughts, emotions, behaviors and most importantly, beliefs. The key is to address each of them at different times in different ways.

2) We all have CHANGE-ability strengths and areas we could profit from enhancing. When looking at each of the CHANGE-abilities, Grounded, Open, Tenacious, Ordered and Connected, you should first determine which ones you do best, that you want to try to leverage more. Then, honestly assess those you do less well, and try some of the exercises here to get better at them.

copyright 2002, Peter Hess, CHANGE Partners, Inc. All rights reserved

Peter Hess
President & CEO
CHANGE Partners, Inc.
Phone: 609-397-7113
e-mail: Peter.Hess@CHANGEpartnersinc.com

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