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:
- Workplace Taboos and Change
- In the workplace, some things can't be discussed — they are taboo. When we're aware of taboos,
we can choose when to obey them, and when to be more flexible. When we're unaware of them, they can
limit our ability to change.
- Conventional Foolishness
- Every specialization has a set of beliefs, often called "conventional wisdom." When these
beliefs are so obvious that they're unquestioned and even unnoticed, there's an opportunity to leap
ahead of the pack — by questioning the conventional wisdom.
- He's No Longer Here
- Sometimes we adopt inappropriate technologies, or we deploy unworkable processes, largely because of
the political power of their advocates, and despite widespread doubts about the wisdom of the moves.
Strangely, though, the decisions often stick long after the advocates move on. Why? And what can we
do about it?
- The True Costs of Cost-Cutting
- The metaphor "trimming the fat" rests on the belief that some parts of the organization are
expendable, and we can remove them with little impact on the remainder. Ah, if only things actually
worked that way...
- Good Change, Bad Change: I
- Change is all around. Some changes are welcome and some not, but when we distinguish good change from
bad, we often get it wrong. Why?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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- And on March 27: Stone-Throwers at Meetings: II
- A stone-thrower in a meeting is someone who is determined to halt forward progress. Motives vary, from embarrassing the Chair to holding the meeting hostage in exchange for advancing an agenda. What can Chairs do about stone-throwers? Available here and by RSS on March 27.
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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.