Everything starts in your head – we all heard this expression many times through our lives. Indeed, it starts with the thoughts in our minds and the meaning we give to the thoughts. That’s why when we present a new project for approval or announce a major change initiative to the employees, we use data, examples, external references, all logical explanations aiming to appeal to the minds of people and convince them that our proposal is the way forward. Often we are thinking that by making the right case for change, presenting a well documented and well articulated logical analysis of the compelling reasons why the organization should change, people will understand what needs to be done and they will do it.
But how come that despite all the rationale and logic, all the “venting” and “involvement” sessions that organizations actively consider and use to address resistance, many change initiatives stumble if not die?
The answer is simple. Yes, it all starts with the head – the thoughts we are thinking and the meaning we give to these thoughts. And:
- The thoughts in our mind lead to our feelings and emotions, which in turn lead to actions that will get us results.
- Emotions will always defeat logic.
Here is a familiar example demonstrating how this works at the individual level. You want to find your perfect lean and muscled body and you decide to start a new exercise and food regime because you know, logically, that this is how you get to your goal. You go through day 1 craving your favorite foods and constantly thinking about all the pain associated with physical exercise. You barely make it through day 2… and you finally give up all your good intentions for a relaxing bath or a massage and a huge slice of cheesecake on day 3. Why? The feeling of pain and loss is what leads you to skipping exercises and getting you back to your favorite foods. The result – you obviously stay with the body shape you so wanted to change.
Not committed you will say, and you are right – people not committed emotionallyto the goal will struggle with getting to it. By putting emphasis on the pain that you are experiencing and on the sweet flavors that you are losing in our example, your mind interprets it as a clear signal to resist and stop all the painful intentions, because the function of your mind is to protect you from pain and to seek pleasure. Consequently, your creative mind ends up with various excuses, delays, millions of other important things to do beforehand, or even procrastination. Those who intentionally manage to change their thoughts and feelings around the goal and who think about the great body that they will have in just a few months thanks to the choice they have made to enjoy these amazingly intense and powerful physical exercises and by replacing unhealthy foods with tasty proteins, fats and vegetables, will get to desired results fast.
Your brain reacts to the words you are telling yourself and to the images you create in your head. Your brain doesn’t care whether it is good or bad, right or wrong, logical or imaginary – it will do exactly what you tell it to do. By changing the conversation and the picture in your head from negative and harsh to positive and enjoyable you create new neurological patterns, you will help yourself feel differently about a particular situation, and you will be able to take actions that will lead to desired results. So you better choose the way how you communicate to your brain if you want to see different results. It is relatively simple and easy to do once you start practicing it – and you will be mastering your emotions overtime. However, people react differently, as we know, and many need to be coached and helped with directions to make this transition.
Coming back to the organizations, very often we approach change by appealing only to the logic of people, assuming that if people see the logic they will buy it. And we ignore or mute the fact that feelings and emotions are an integral part of any human being. As long as emotional intelligence continues to be misinterpreted as the ability of a human being to hide, suppress or fake her emotions, as long as emotions continue to be a “taboo” in the workplace, and as long as leaders continue to put little or no emphasis on helping people make the transition from losing what was to feeling great about the upcoming changes, most organizational change initiatives will continue to stumble and often end with “making the case for change” and “venting”.
I would like to share with you the example from Dr. Bob Marshak’s book “Covert Processes at Work: Managing the Five Hidden Dimensions of Organizational Change”. We know that Martin Luther King’s speech “I have a dream” inspired people to change by evoking powerful shared values and aspirations. Now imagine the same speech if it had been presented using only pure logic and data – the market forces that positively or negatively impacted the society over decades, the statistical analysis of the number or percentage of discriminatory events in previous years by state and city, the rational analysis of prevailing conditions and trends, and proposed new actions to address the situation. Are you jumping with excitement yet, feeling inspired to make the change?
“The power of inspiration is that it doesn’t appeal to reason and logic. Inspiration speaks to the aspects of people that want to do good things, want to be part of something bigger than themselves, and want to see their values, hopes, and dreams fulfilled”, says Bob Marshak. Appealing to positive values and aspirations and helping people engage emotionally is what differentiates an inspirational leader from analytical manager.
We know that change can sometimes be demotivating, threatening our competence, our feeling of achievement and control. Ask yourself a question – as a leader, do I help people make a transition to change their thoughts and feelings about a specific change initiative? Do I help people feel great about it, not leaving them in grievance? Do I speak to the aspect that people want to see their values, hopes, dreams fulfilled? Or do I just damp data on them, let them “vent” and express their concerns and then throw more logic and data on them and move forward, assuming that the concerns have been addressed, and in any way the psychological transition to acceptance is a “natural” and sometimes lengthy process, and people will get on board overtime once they see the results?
Remember that emotions will always defeat logic. People will achieve extraordinary results when you coach them through transitioning the emotional curve to embrace change, when you encourage and inspire them by speaking to their feelings and emotions, in addition to explaining the rationale and logic. Emotional commitment is what defines employee engagement. You will help people commit emotionally by connecting their minds and hearts, leading them to take inspired massive action and achieve great results.
And if you want to see different results for yourself then be intentional and start changing your thinking in a way that it is supportive of your success. It all starts in your head.