There was a long silence, as everyone considered what Dave had just said. Matt spoke first. "Dave, that has to be wrong. If you're right," he said, "we've just wasted three months. And I wouldn't want to be in the room when you tell Tolman."
Carl was probably the most upset of all of them. "Actually, I'd like to see that myself. You're nothing but negative, Dave, and personally I'm sick of it." Then he stood up and left the conference room.
Matt and Carl are demonstrating two different responses to the bad news they've just received. Acknowledging difficulty can be so uncomfortable or frightening that we sometimes prefer the comfort of ignorance. Our discomfort can be so compelling that, like Matt or Carl, we become willing to adopt or cling to false beliefs that conform better to our wishes than does reality. And we'll stick with those illusions until we're forced to recognize our folly.
Teams and organizations have real advantages if they excel at detecting and eliminating myths and confusion. Here are some of the milestones on the path to Clarity.
- Whether we're clinging to myth or just confused, all progress depends on recognizing that there's something wrong with what we believe. Usually recognition comes to us through Messengers — a few courageous souls who are willing to withstand our objections and our sometimes-personal attacks.
- Sometimes Fear and discomfort
can be so compelling
that we cling to illusionsacknowledging our error can take the form of accepting the word of the Messengers. More often, we acknowledge our error while finding some minor flaw in the assertions of the Messengers. That way we can change our views without ceding status to the Messengers.
- To make further progress, we have to realize that we ourselves will have to create the change we need. This step can sometimes be the scariest, because we have to accept that no mysterious force will do our work for us.
- By telling others that we understand that things must change and that we'll be changing them, we express commitment to finding a new path forward that departs from the one we traveled to get here.
- Finally, we take some concrete action that we hope will move us toward a resolution. It might not actually work at first, but as long as we keep at it, each attempt gives us new insights about the reality of the problem.
The members of groups move along this path at different paces, sometimes backtracking, and that can lead to frustration within the group. But we can manage that frustration if everyone knows about this path, and how natural it is. Then, giving each other time gets easier, and maybe fewer of us will have to get up and leave the room. Top Next Issue
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More articles on Organizational Change:
- Power, Authority, and Influence: A Systems View
- Power, Authority, and Influence are often understood as personal attributes. To fully grasp how they
function in organizations, we must adopt a systems view.
- Good Change, Bad Change: II
- When we distinguish good change from bad, we often get it wrong: we favor things that would harm us,
and shun things that would help. When we do get it wrong, we're sometimes misled by social factors.
- Patching Up the Cracks
- When things repeatedly "fall through the cracks," we're not doing the best we can. How can
we deal with the problem of repeatedly failing to do what we need to do? How can we patch up the cracks?
- The Restructuring-Fear Cycle: II
- When enterprises restructure, reorganize, downsize, outsource, lay off, or make other organizational
adjustments, they usually focus on financial health. Here's Part II of an exploration of how the fear
induced by these changes can lead to the need for further restructuring.
- Motivation and the Reification Error
- We commit the reification error when we assume, incorrectly, that we can treat abstract constructs as
if they were real objects. It's a common error when we try to motivate people.
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- Conversations at work can be frustrating even when everyone tries to be polite, clear, and unambiguous. But some people actually try to be nasty, unclear, and ambiguous. Here's Part I of a small collection of their techniques. Available here and by RSS on October 24.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.