Opening ourselves (and others) to change

December 3, 2011

I recently met  with Jodi Flynn (of Luma Coaching) to explore the basis of our coaching work — and that meant talking about how to catalyze change.  Thanks to Jodi for much of the content I’ve included in this short post.

Most of us (and so most of our clients), are change averse.  Even when we can imagine or understand the benefits of some change in our lives, our organizations, or our relationships, something holds us back.  As coaches, we want to open our clients to constructive change. What helps this happen?

We shared several models:

  • Comparative pain:  We may help our clients realize or understand that the real pain of the status quo is greater than the imagined pain of the change they may be contemplating.
  • Pain, perseverance, and gain:  Every change involves pain.  Things seem harder to do at first, or situations are more awkward.  This lasts for a period of perseverance, but then we’re no longer held back.  And — the real benefit — after a while there’s a gain over where we were at the beginning.  Helping clients acknowledge this rhythm, and project the actual pain, perseverance, and gain, may open them to change.  Also, it may be possible to find strategies that control the amount of pain, the or the perseverance period required.
  • Fear may increase when we look it in the face.  By painting a detailed model of the life we want, the way we want to work, the quality of a relationship, or whatever is the desired subject of change, the positive vision can become so compelling that resistance to change begins to diminish.
  • We may not look for change in the parts of our lives that we experience as fixed.  In other words, we may not name the need for change until the possibility of change feels  real.  I offered the example of a married couple, who might declare, “Well, we get along okay.”  Seeing no alternative to their current lives, they accept when seems immobile.  But upon visiting a marriage counselor, and finding ways to identify issues and work with them, they may revise their assessment to “We never realized how problematic or empty our relationship was!”.
  • Empowerment may be the key.  When we experience ourselves as the victim of circumstance, as conflicted because of the woes of our lives, as powerless to change our situation, we’ve little energy to invest in change.  When we can experience ourselves as responsible, as in a synergistic relationship with the world around us, we become empowered to change our situation.  And even though some outside circumstances of our lives may really be fixed and not easily changeable, we can change the way we carry ourselves and relate to that fixed world.  So … helping clients understand how they can choose that relationship can open them to change.  Jodi spoke of a model leading us from being victim to just being in conflict, then being responsible, becoming of service, acting in reconciliation, existing in synergy, and finally becoming non-judgmental so that we can act much more easily on our own behalf instead of in reaction to the provocation of others or of circumstances.  Being able to place ourselves in this spectrum helps us become open to change.

Whether we seek to improve our personal lives, become more effective within their work organizations. develop teams and groups that can better create solutions to social or business problems, nourish relationships or simply build confidence, change is required.  How we embrace change, or transform our resistance to it, determines how we will succeed.  And understanding models, such as those I’ve shared above, is key to helping people make that transformation.

Blog posts such as this often invite just minor comments of appreciation or disagreement. But I do hope that this one will start a more vital discussion. What has helped you overcome your resistance to change? And how might coaching, counseling, or other assistance have helped in that process?

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2 Responses to “Opening ourselves (and others) to change”

  1. Jodi said

    Arthur, you captured our conversation brilliantly, and we’ve both acknowledged this will be a topic we will explore for some time. Change is the only thing we can be sure of and yet most of us try to avoid it because we perceive it as threatening to what we want to hold on to: comfort, security, relationships, the familiar…etc. By viewing change as a normal part of our existence and that which brings opportunities for greater experiences we can welcome it and even begin to dance with it.

  2. Orlagh said

    I found this post very useful, the language resonates with me. Especially the importance of acknowledging the pain involved in change, and strategies for dealing with inevitable fear. It adds new insights and summarises to previous learnings from other sources. I’ve rephrased it into a first person language and already built a series of actions within a structure loosely around this entry. So thanks a lot you two!

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