Change : How to Change

Using a 3-Step Process

Dr Arky Ciancutti is CEO of Learning Center. He is often quoted in the business sections of many business papers and journals.  He regulalry appears on National and Public Radio, on topics ranging from teamwork in the workplace to today's economic climate, to international trust and mistrust. He is the author of Built on Trust.

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When you can answer, 'What am I afraid of', you can change.

In our myths about leaders, we often visualize fearless warriors beating out paths to new visions and conquests.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Fear is a survival mechanism, a requirement for life and well-being. While having fear is very different than allowing fear to dictate, fear does exist.

Since virtually everyone has fears, to pose as fearless simply exposes a fear of seeming fearful !

Your ability to change is not a matter of willpower. Your willpower will be there when you take
three steps :-

  1. Admit your fears
  2. Identify whether your organization is complicating things with its own fears
  3. Take two simple measures to counter both


Complaints, even silent complaints, expose fears. When we complain to blame or to get others to agree negatively, the activity is unproductive. When we complain to harvest understanding, we open the door for change.

Each time you engage in a "water cooler buzz," by participating or by seeming to agree, you are indirectly expressing fears. The fears vary greatly; the following are typical for the work environment.

Ten Fears

  1. Retribution
    Do you fear exclusion from advancement, from the 'inner circle', or even from your job ? If so, you may find yourself talking about, rather than with, a source of  potential solution.Some organizations unwittingly invite such fears by not explaining punitive actions, leaving people to fill the void with negative assumptions.

  2. Failure
    Most fears of failure are actually about being exposed. Are you assuming that "a" failure means "you" are a failure? Is your organization inviting risk-averse behavior by providing undue consequence?

  3. Futility
    Sometimes a "what's the use, I've tried before" attitude masks a fear of closure, of finding out the real truth. If you really cannot impact your situation, then you could accept that, you could continue complaining, or you could make a change yourself. 
  4. Rejection
    These are fears of not getting something we already don't have. Tactless communication can exacerbate our hurt, but the objective results of not trying and of rejection are identical.
  5. Authority
    Even "benign" authority can be imposing. Many of these fears are ubiquitous, unconsciously applied to all authority because of earlier generalizations. In the present, are you making undue assumptions about this particular authority ? Can you find one authority that belies your pre-conceived notions ? Some organizations dramatize control fears by allowing management to dictate, rather than lead and collaborate.
  6. Embarrassment
    Most of us have had fears of looking foolish, of seeming incompetent, of being taken for granted, of needing help. When our "solution" to these fears is to avoid the problem, we often find ourselves in a `poor me' complaint.
  7. Conflict
    The fear of conflict, or of strong emotional reaction, is widespread and particularly insidious. Many diverse views come from others, and come packaged as disagreements. When we avoid these, we exclude much available intelligence.
  8. Boredom
    Fears of "running out of problems to solve" often generate unnecessary crisis and melodrama. When we aren't identifying the underlying fears, this freneticism looks like work and tends to be self-perpetuating.
  9. Communication
    Fears that "it won't come out right" are often mis-identified. Except for language barriers, these fears are more accurately fears of embarrassment, rejection or failure.
  10. Change Itself
    Has anyone ever tried to change you, or to "fix" you ? If it didn't work, why not ? It is normal to feel resistant to change. Though our resistance often feels amorphous, the source is actually a precise set of fears.

Your organization or team may be dramatizing its own fears by imposing change rather than managing buy-in. Nonetheless, if you find yourself complaining, mentally or verbally, about "another change," there are fears impeding your ability to succeed.

You Can Change

Let's say, for example, that your organization is downsizing. You are being asked to do much more with fewer resources and longer hours. The changes seem imposed; you find yourself resistant. You wish to succeed in these new circumstances, but your willpower feels inconsistent.

What is holding you back is what you're afraid of.

Unidentified, your generalized fears will seem like threatened survival. Left unattended, these fears will grow and obscure solutions. The "water cooler buzz" may exacerbate without helping to identify fears. 

Your first positive step is to get specific. Your specific fears, and the organization's, will become apparent as you list your complaints.

Next, what practical steps, even small steps, can you take to counter each fear ?

Here you may get a good last look at your resistance in the form of inertia. Your mind may plead `overwhelm, it's too much.' If so, force yourself to take that first action, even a little one.

Change Is As Change Does

Positive action is effective for two reasons. First, it yields objective information, which helps distinguish exaggerated from real risk. Second, positive action clearly separates having fear from being driven by fear. When you begin changing fundamental habits, successful behavior comes naturally.

As you work down your list of steps, you will find that willpower-and courage-grow with action. At that point, you can change.

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