©2005 Don Gray
Three of my favorite quotes about change and translations:
“The only person who likes change is a wet baby.” This change corrects a problem so I’m OK with it.
“Everyone likes change, when someone else is doing it.” I’m OK with the status quo. You do the changing.
“The only universal constant is change.” Get used to changing. The universe constantly changes so you need to change too.
If change is so inevitable, why do people, teams and organizations experience so much difficulty changing? We should be good at it!
In fact, we are good at change, but in our own particular way. Any given change carries two factors. The requested change, and how we feel about that change. Recently while cooking, I grabbed the handle of a pan that had been in a 350 degree oven. It didn’t take long before I let go of the handle. I had no trouble accepting the need for this change.
Not all changes, though, are as universally accepted as dropping the hand of a hot pan. Suppose everyone were required to shave their head. This change wouldn’t bother me and I’d readily shave my head. Johanna Rothman assures me she’d have a big problem with this change and be very slow to change. This typifies “You go ahead and change. I’m happy with the status quo.”
If we ignore neurologically requested changes (like letting go of the hot pan handle), we can view the ratio of the change/willingness to change as a quotient. As we average all the quotients over many situations for one individual, we arrive at a statistical value I’ll call that person’s Change Quotient. The Change Quotient relates to how open a person is to change.
Change Quotients vary from 0 to 1. Values close to 0 indicate a preference for slow changes and value approaching 1 indicate people who readily change. We each have a unique change quotient. 0 doesn’t mead “bad”, and 1 doesn’t mean “good”. The values simply indicate a preference.
People with lower change quotients often view those with high change quotients as chaotic and “flighty”. I was once asked to “make up my mind” when in fact I’d already made my mind up and shared the results twice while the other person was still thinking.
Conversely, “glacial” describes low change quotients to those having change quotients approaching 1. These people seem to reject instantly any suggestion to change, even something as simple as removing their boot from your bare toes.
Several things contribute to our Change Quotient. Any proposed change runs a gauntlet of survival rules, self-esteem, and personality/family checklists. The gauntlet forms our “willingness to change.”
Survival rules perform as “mental reflex actions”, the things we do, the thoughts we think, and feelings we have, that we don’t consciously think about. We build most of our survival rules by repeated assertion, usually by our parents or respected adults, of things to keep us alive. “Never make a decision until you have all the facts.” “Don’t be wishy-washy–make up your mind.” “Be your own man–don’t let others push you around.”
Self-esteem reflects how we currently feel about ourselves. This fluctuates based on our physical state (rested/tired, healthy/sick), our mental state (happy/sad, exited/bored) and how we feel others view us.
Our family creates our initial world view. Some families view consistency and slowness to change as admirable qualities. Others feel adaptability and responsiveness are desirable attributes. Each one of us starts with our family’s view of change start with this view.
Personality builds on this foundation. We add our experiences, successes and failures, to build new rules about change. Which kinds of change we can accommodate (or welcome) quickly, which changes we need to consider, which changes we want to avoid.
Responding to Change
Some years ago I found out that I was not really in charge of everything, and actually in control of very little. This led me to
Don’s Dismal Dilemma: How will I achieve my goals, when I’m not in charge or control?
Physical systems follow patterns established eons ago. Friends do what suits them. My clients determine when and where I’ll work with them.
As time progressed, I found the one thing in the universe I have complete control over: me. And so I found
Don’s Delightful Discovery: I can’t control what happens to me, but I can control me, and how I respond to what happens to me.
As Virginia Satir said, “We can direct our efforts to change what we can and to work out creative ways to live with what we can’t change.” [New Peoplemaking, pg 7]
When we quit changing with our environment, we face extinction. We need to update our mental models so they conform to current reality. As we grow and mature, our realities change. Our mental models need to reflect the changes. Mental models formed in childhood and not updated make for interesting adult behavior. Dad warned me about getting “Hardening of the Attitudes”. (Notice the survival rule that affects my change quotient?)
Changing allows me to achieve my goals. If the goal doesn’t change, and external events (by definition beyond my control) change the situation, I need to change my actions (I control these) to bring the results in line with achieving my goal. Or perhaps my actions aren’t producing the results needed to achieve the goal. Again change becomes necessary to realign with my goal. If I don’t change what I’m doing, my actions will take me away from my goal.
“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Albert Einstein
Occasionally I need to change my goals. As I learn more, what used to be important may not be important now. Changing goals allows me to work on what’s important to me.
So what to do? The answer depends if you are the changer or the changee.
For the changer …
Asking other people to change can appear as “Inflicting Help.” Insisting other people change borders on foolhardy. Think about the following:
- You’ve already thought through the change, they haven’t. Allow some soak time.
- Are you really solving a problem? Check out “Solving Other People’s Problems.“1
- Expect people to react differently at different times to different change requests.
For the changee …
Rhonda’s Second Revelation: “When change is inevitable, we struggle most to keep what we value most.” – Jerry Weinberg
- Remember everyone has a different Change Quotient. What you see as change, they may view as stable.
- The Helpful Rule reminds us “Regardless of how it looks, people are trying to be helpful.”
- Share with the changer what is most valuable to you.
I’d like to share my favorite quote about change:
“Change happens one person at a time.” Virginia Satir
And you can always change your mind about how you change.
1 Amplifying Your Effectiveness: Collected Essays, Dorset House, ISBN 0-932633-47-1, pages 17 – 21