In the first part of this discussion, we explored two factors that can distort our assessment of the goodness of a change — circumstantial complexity and superficial simplicity. Let's now explore three social factors that can lead us to misjudgments just as significant.
- Aversion to coercion
- Some changes are thrust upon us. When the agent of change is another person, or a group of people, some of us experience resentment of the change agent. We sense the limits of our autonomy, and instead of focusing on the larger problem of expanding our freedom, or accepting and understanding its limits, we vilify the change agent.
- When we perceive that the change agent benefits from the change they've thrust upon us, this vilification can be especially intense. We question the change agent's motives, or we focus on the supposed malevolence of the change agent. We don't really try to understand the change or assess it objectively.
- Attraction to charisma
- In some instances, when we regard the agents of change with affection, respect, or awe, our feelings for them can overwhelm our aversion to coercion. We accept the change without resentment — even without critical thought.
- When this happens, we sometimes confuse the change with its agent. Because we trust the change agent, we fail to apply appropriate critical standards when we assess the goodness of the change. Advertisers, political candidates, and others interested in influencing the opinions of large populations often exploit this fallibility.
- Group affiliation and disaffiliation
- Groups with which we seek affiliation, or seek to maintain affiliation, can influence our decisions about the value of a change, as they can influence other decisions. If we feel that supporting a change might threaten an affiliation we value, we're less likely to support it. In some cases, this bias can be internalized. That is, outside our awareness, our desire for the affiliation can influence our assessment of the goodness of a change.
- A desire Groups with which we seek affiliation,
or seek to maintain affiliation,
can influence our decisions about
the value of a changefor disaffiliation or distancing can have a similar effect, except that the judgments we make are more likely to be opposed to the stances of the groups in question. In disaffiliation, the process is more akin to if-they-want-it-then-I-don't. Both the desire to affiliate and the desire to disaffiliate can interfere with clear, critical thinking.
- Although this mechanism is sometimes known as "peer pressure" or "social pressure," the use of the word pressure evokes a sense of coercion, which isn't always accurate. Often, when our desire for group affiliation affects our assessments of a change, and when we're unaware of the emotional importance of the affiliation, we feel autonomous and free, rather than coerced.
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More articles on Organizational Change:
- When Change Is Hard: I
- Sometimes changing organizations goes smoothly. More often, it doesn't. Whatever methodology we use
— and there are many methodologies available — difficulties can arise. When change is hard,
what's happening? What makes change hard?
- Reactance and Micromanagement
- When we feel that our freedom at work is threatened, we sometimes experience urges to do what is forbidden,
or to not do what is required. This phenomenon — called reactance — might explain
some of the dynamics of micromanagement.
- Deciding to Change: Trusting
- When organizations change by choice, people who are included in the decision process understand the
issues. Whether they agree with the decision or not, they participate in the decision in some way. But
not everyone is included in the process. What about those who are excluded?
- Deciding to Change: Choosing
- When organizations decide to change what they do, the change sometimes requires that they change how
they make decisions, too. That part of the change is sometimes overlooked, in part, because it affects
most the people who make decisions. What can we do about this?
- The Passion-Professionalism Paradox
- Changing the direction of a group or a company requires passion and professionalism, two attributes
often in tension. Here's one possible way to resolve that tension.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming May 15: Entry Intimidation
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- And on May 22: Newtonian Blind Alleys: I
- When we decide how to allocate organizational resources, we make assumptions about how the world works. Often outside our awareness, the thinking of Sir Isaac Newton influences our assumptions. And sometimes they lead us into blind alleys. Universality is one example. Available here and by RSS on May 22.
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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.