Healthy Discomfort and Change

Change is a constant, but I’m sure that comfort with change will never change…it will continue to be uncomfortable.

Much has been written on a daily basis about change, making changes, personal growth, and adapting to change. It is popular fodder for discussion, but in real life making changes – if done well, is down right uncomfortable for some. It’s easy to discuss and think making change. If change is real, it can be uncomfortable.

A View to Consider:
“Making improvements and change should be uncomfortable in a healthy way. If we’re not comfortable with it, then it may just be window dressing. Real changes require us to be uncomforble (at least cognitively and behaviorally) in order for them to stick.”

The concept:
Cognitive Dissonance: The idea that what we think-feel-behave, is at some kind of mismatch with other known circumstances. Just because we know what needs to be done, doesn’t always lead to the change. Instead, the gap is closed by denial, procrastination, and self-defeating behaviors.

The reasons why some people don’t change:
1. Change requires choice and follow though. Some people don’t possess either.
2. Discomfort means we have to confront our beliefs about the world, and our shortcomings.
3. People like to hold on to old ways. The problem is not immediate or urgent.
4. Weaknesses are not a popular topic.

If a change is needed, there has to be a clear payoff. No payoff, then there is little desire to institute a change. For some, delaying what we think we need to do, will eventually ACT on us, and something will need to be done.

Change is both Uncomfortable and Process:
If you’re not uncomfortable making a change, then what you’re doing is not change. If you think change is a matter of a task list, you’re into self-deception. Change is also not about someone doing something to you. It is about doing something different yourself.

The Change Process:
1. Knowing you have to make a change.
2. Identifying the personal sacrifices that have to be made.
3. Making and keeping promises….repeatedly. And, then again.
4. The payoff – Why are you doing this?

What is keeping you from real change?


The Benefits of Storytelling

Storytelling sometimes gets a bad rap. It implies that to tell someone a story, means that a half-truth or diversion is being communicated.

In reality, the power of a story has many practical benefits and can bridge gaps in knowledge where information or professional literature cannot. Humans often connect around common themes, and themes can be in many circumstances communicated well using a well formed story. Traditions, and human beings for centuries if not more, have used the story as a way to connect, learn, or communicate important things. Cave drawings? They were forms of getting messages to others.

20130408-182132.jpg. Photo by: Brian E. Dick

Reasons a Story Works:
1. Stories communicate meanings to others in non-direct ways.
2. We can reach others better through information that makes us think.
3. Stories often represent common ground, traditions, and ways of holding our interest.
4. Learning is faster.

The reality is: Often others will not listen if material is not seen to pertain to them. Often a message is avoided when it seems too confrontational, unpleasant, or disinteresting. When someone tells a story that communicates a message, it has a higher likelihood of reaching the listener, because they are more open to the information and can decide what they will make of it.

A personal story
“Last evening, as I was putting my daughter to bed, she was upset about the idea of having to go to bed. This is not necessarily uncommon. Instantly however, I decided to use a short family story that helped her connect with one of her personal interests. With what seemed to be a neutral story, opened up influence, and created more conversation. As some time passed, she was ready for bed.”. Whether you are young or old, stories and the use of narrative appears to be a universal approach to connect with others, and motivate others.

Too many people feel talked to, rather than talked with. Using narrative is an important way to build influence, open minds, build rapport, and communicate tough topics in ways that can be received in better ways.

When was the last time you used a story to engage your audience? What would happen to your message, your sales pitch, or your team that you managed if you told a relevant story that connects with the ideas you are trying to communicate? Chances are, others would consider the message more, especially if they connect with many of the underlying ideas.

Transferring Skills – Learn by Doing

The challenge is not the learning…Everyone can learn something new. The problem is transferring what was learned into meaningful action, and visible results.

At the end of a recent 2 day psychotherapy conference that this writer attended, the presenter remarked: “It’s not the theory that changes people, people change people” – Anthony Mannarino, Ph.D

In many contexts both personal and professional, managerial or with personal clients, the Learning-Doing, implementation challenge is present. How successful we are with our teams, business units, clients, or ourselves is based on the choices we make about what we just learned. Making the connection between knowing and doing requires some effort that goes well beyond taking in information.

Making The ConnectionSkill Transfer
In most cases transferring something we know into a visible product means making a choice. You can say or think the skill all you want, but pure doing is the road to getting a result.

Ways of Making the Connection
1. Practice the concepts
2. Put an end to your avoidance
3. Teach what you learned
4. Evaluate the results
5. Practice again

Working with Clients:
Means you have to teach them how to practice. Create do-able action steps that eliminate the avoidance to do the learning. Encourage.

Working with Teams:
The team creates the steps and shares the practice tasks. The team compares their results with the practice.

Working with Staff
Translate the doing into a visible representation that helps others get to where they are going, thus implementing the learning over time.

Fortitude is usually the defining quality to skill transfer. Those that really want it, are usually those that achieve the results. (Photo by: Brian Dick)


Moving Beyond Barriers: Open Up Clarity

One of the most frustrating aspects of barriers is that they are perpetuated by the person experiencing them.

Let me explain:

The Self-Perpetuation Cycle
1. An external barrier is seen as too overwhelming
2. We are too obtuse to solutions.
3. We’re too busy trying to get “validated” for our victim thinking about the barrier
4. We actively create a road sign on our back that says “barrier.”


Seeing Something as Too Overwhelming
What you see is not necessarily what is true or accurate. In the field of psychotherapy, a prominent evidenced based treatment (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) takes on the whole notion that what we automatically see, is not necessarily based on actual reality. The problem is that humans don’t often consider alternatives or evaluating the problem in the first place, thus leading to an automatic overwhelming feeling that fuels the barrier. No clarity on what/how to proceed is the outcome.

Being Obtuse
When barriers are taken for face value, sometimes we close off meaningful reflection on what our role is to do something about it. Instead we obsess, complain, and seek being validated for our erroneous way of looking at the problem. This is like giving up the ship. Creative intention is stymied. We settle for the concrete, instead of seeking other possibilities.

We’re into Validation Victim Thinking
Because we have abdicated any meaningful reflection of our role in the barrier, or what we are going to do about it, we develop a toxic and dead end road mentality. Instead of seeking solutions, we seek sympathy. We say to others, that the issue is outside us. Sympathy is the slow killer to doing something and moving beyond the barrier.

The “Road Sign” on Our Back
The worse aspect, is that we carry around our victim status on our back for everyone to see. We live our barrier, keep our rigid thinking, and exist in misery. Our capacities are dulled, and no movement beyond the barrier is evident. Actually others start distancing themselves from us, because they are uncomfortable with the stance we have taken. Our emotional road sign steals all the air in the room.

Moving Toward Clarity
Clarity and movement around the barrier is only brought about if we can restore the following:
1.Look at our role in the barrier
…is it merely the way we are thinking
about it?

2.Open up ourselves
– Honestly, and deeply reflect on the problem. Face the harsh music of what role you played in your response, or the original barrier.

3. Open up Time to Explore:
Explore more about, and evaluate the barrier. Was it a “boiling frog” that has been going on a long time, or just a bad choice, or a change in the conditions that we didn’t see.

4. Think Ahead.
One of my leadership mentors has preached this principle for many years. By thinking ahead, you gradually own more of your future, rather than becoming a victim.

5. Road Signs Eventually Wear Out.
Ultimately, your job is to create action oriented behaviors, rather than road signs that tell others your problems.

Ultimately, we are the “self perpetuators” of the barrier, not necessarily the barrier itself. Think about your role in problems, even if you didn’t create them. It may be just a matter of thinking and acting differently about the problem.

Developing Perspective: The Skill Behind Effective Leadership

When a photographer composes a portrait or prepares to take a photograph, she must also have a perspective on the subject that lies before her. Choosing the right lens, and carefully planning the layout of the picture takes a skill that knows different perspectives are involved, and there is many ways to create the right outcome and effect, as that photo is taken.

Leading is really no different. It requires a broad experience base that understands how to achieve an outcome or desired effect. The leader learns how to choose the right lens, and combine the right adjustments to create the best outcome.


Knowing different perspectives is important why?
1. Expanding decisions beyond the concrete: Having depth. A leader that has depth has a greater range of understanding about the problem, but also a greater range of pattern recognition to attack the problem in the most intuitive way.

2. Different problems require a wider range of perspectives: Let’s face it, the world is complex sometimes. Like the great photographer than knows how different lighting and lens will affect the outcome of a composition, a deep thinking leader will often know how different attributes affect or will directly influence different outcomes.

3. Having more “tools” about a situation, means that more variables can be thought through, thus avoiding pitfalls and hazards along the way. Obviously this is why experience and skill count with leadership, although a perspective taker needs to also be open to new ideas by others who may not have as much skill.

Ways that we gain more perspective-
1. Learn to “think ahead”. It is a skill, and can be taught. Those that learn to think ahead, often can see many more perspectives than the concrete or reactionary thinker.

2. Develop humility. Go into the day knowing that your team will teach you something. Over time you will gain sensitivity to many other opinions and perspectives. Many of our greatest national leaders (e.g. Washington, Lincoln, King, or Reagan to name a few…) exercised a leadership style of learning to learn from others – in order to make the next decision.

3. Finally, learn to connect dots. Pattern recognition, even connection of disparate ideas sometimes can determine the next course. In his 2005 Stanford University speech (often discussed, quoted and paraphrased), Steve Jobs – arguably one of our greatest innovative thinkers in this century, discussed the concept of learning to connect patterns “or the dots” between different things, and to be able to look at many different perspectives on how things may be received. Developing a healthy openness to do the mental mining with patterns, may provide several perspectives that were not previously thought of by others.

Learn to think originally, develop different perspectives, and be open to others. These are effective skills that will help you develop your leadership skills and talents.

The Obstacle of ‘All or Nothing’ Thinking

A part of the human condition is that we are all mistake capable. No one is really perfect, although it is healthy to strive for the best, and improve our results. How we go about that is often driven by the way we look at problems, and how we view “things” and our “relationships”


The biggest obstacle often is ourselves. Humans have a tendency of seeking that things will always work out smoothly, and naturally, and we attempt to avoid pain and discomfort. That is how we’re wired. A problem arises when we are attempting to solve problems. Sometimes we develop an “either-or” mentality and miss the larger picture. We develop all or nothing thinking, there is no middle ground.

“A project team is trying to meet a deadline. Time is critical, and the deadline is looming. The senior manager seeks that the team approach the problem in a particular way, but gives the team little authority to look at alternatives to solving the problem. The problem solution has already been given, but the ‘how’ to do it, has not been determined. It would be easy for the team to adopt one polarized approach to meet the expectation. In their haste, they get a result, but failed to look at alternatives. The senior manager has scripted the team to limited options, and an all or nothing attitude develops, and key alternatives that might bring better results are missed.”

Sometimes the pursuit for the solution, and the will to demand a solution obscures one’s ability to consider options, a lot of them. When we look at things or relationships in dichotomous categories we basically shove everything else off to the side. We miss important options, ideas, and most of all straight jacket ourselves or team.

Individuals with life problems adopt the same “all or nothing” filter – which in the end keeps them from looking at all aspects that could bring potential solutions. It’s global thinking, but the global part means that everything is considered in the same way. Often times it is better to think in terms of possibilities rather than hard core givens.

Ways of avoiding the “all or nothing” mindset:
1. Frame problems as likely having many “approximate” not perfect alternatives.
2. Learn to evaluate all your alternatives, finding evidence for and against each one.
3. Understand that the world isn’t always the same.
4. Performance is about progress and moving forward, not exact perfection.

All or nothing thinking is an obstacle, but it is also very changeable. As long as you’re willing to consider that things in the world are not always perfect, you can consider that there are likely many explanations to problems you face on an individual, team or organizational level.

The Pitfalls of Creating Dependence in Your Team

There is a difference between helping and creating dependence…In your team.

Helping implies getting someone to a different level so they can support themselves on their own two feet.

Creating dependence implies not letting others in your team soar on their own.


Some teams are run by leaders that only know how to create dependence in their teams. What appears to be helping, in the long run is merely control. Having control of a team squelches their best efforts to succeed. It is a recipe to failure, but the secondary gain is with the person creating all the dependency in the team. Creating dependency in others is like telling your team not to perform. Creating dependence in the team, takes the following traits:

1. The team can’t move because the leader requires them not to think. Instead they are given the directives what to do.
2. The leader has reached the limit of their skill. Their insecurity is such a problem that controlling and creating dependence is the only way they can keep from losing control.
3. The leader is so disengaged and their unit is drifting.
4. Creating dependence in their team members feels good to the one in charge, and gives them a false sense of self.
5. Creating dependence hides the leader’s ineptness.

Creating dependence in others we work with looks like helping, but it is only a projection of the leader’s weakness, and lack of capacity. It is a unit killer.

The effects on the team are enormous. Skepticism, under-functioning, and second-guessing becomes common place. If they don’t collude with the co-dependence, then it is seen as non-compliance. The biggest issue is the loss in capacity, initiative and creativity. What could be a healthy and developing business unit, ends up being a mediocre unit.

Creating dependence in others is not helping, and it’s purpose is usually to meet the needs of the person creating the dependence in others.

  • Indicators that there is a culture of dependence in your organization:
  • 1. People are leaving
    2. Attitude or productivity problems
    3. Staff is not following policy
    4. Dishonesty
    5. Entitlement mentality in staff
    6. Gross disconnection with the values and cross company goals
    7. Frustration, lack of vision

    Helping rather than creating dependence implies that the manager is guiding rather than controlling their team. It also implies that everyone is responsible for the results and is accountable at the same time. It is about getting there, and not about one person trying to meet their needs at the expense of others or the organization.

    In what ways do you see dependency creeping into the culture of your organization?

    Do you help and get out of the way, or create a dependency where others see you as the center –

    Giving and Getting – Team Dynamics

    A pervasive dynamic in the workplace and with teams is the concept of “getting or giving”.

    Getting: Is the outcome of what can I get from the organization. What’s in it for me.

    Giving: What talents and abilities do I bring to the organization? What do I give to receive?

    Teams and groups of employees often fail because:
    1. There is really not a team. It is a utilitarian view: What do ‘I’ get if ‘I’ do this, or that…
    2. Everyone on the team is not held accountable using the same rules or expectations.
    3. Oversight, or management is too afraid to confront inconsistencies.

    The Getters tend to participate in teams where the above dynamics are present. They continue to get, but fly under the radar or escape reasonable scrutiny for the results. I have seen this dynamic present since MBA business school. It is a part of the human condition.

    The Givers are the silent producers, rarely complaining, but producing the results. After a while, the Getters rely on the Givers, and the team eventually suffers. It can be a very frustrating experience for the Givers in the organization, but more importantly, it can render the leadership more vulnerable and in a position where they have enabled the Getters – making it harder to address.

    Teams will always have both types of members. The job of the leader or manager is to address the situation more immediately so as to avoid the vulnerabilities it produces in the team. The following steps may prove helpful:

    1. Approach all members with the same expectations. Set appropriate limits when it becomes apparent that some members are under-functioning at the expense of others.

    2. Be honest, avoid unholy alliances with one team member or members over others. Avoiding mis-steps by a deviant member will not make the problem go away. Addressing it honestly upfront, is the best strategy.

    3. If you have policies and expectations, use them. As a leader your job is to get ahead of the problem, not wait until it manifests into something more difficult to solve later on. Team members who are Getters, will not give up their behavior until it is directly addressed. Remember the team has a purpose, and it is not to give an advantage of one member over the organizational objective.

    Can you identify the dynamic of Getting over Giving in your organization?