After the pandemic struck, change became a commonality spreading across the world like wildfire. “Change management” has been a buzzword as long as I’ve been working in organizational leadership, but it took on an epic level after the pandemic started.
You were probably faced with some really tough decisions in 2020, weren’t you? Business leaders, parents, coaches, teachers, you name it, we all had to rapidly adapt to change in our environment just to survive. And that’s not easy, that’s the stuff that keeps us up at night.
I went through it, too. I went through it as a leader in combat, as a leader in special forces, and in 2020 as a small-business owner, as a nonprofit founder, as a father, as a husband. I get it. And it’s something we’re still going to wrestle with in 2021. Pick a crisis, any crisis, there’ll be another one. There will always be another issue, another change, that we have to get through.
Frankly, change can really freak people out. One thing I consistently see working with leaders at different levels in different industries is that we have all become so far removed from our primal human nature. We don’t understand and we disregard what’s below the waterline of our emotions.
We do that at our peril, because in reality, we are just well-dressed Neanderthals. When we experience change, we get primal … and so do the people around you. It goes back to the most basic elements of human nature that we learned as Green Berets working in trust-depleted villages all over the world.
There are three main reasons why we react this way to change. One is the resource-scarcity mindset. We navigate the world by acquiring and maintaining resources for survival. We’re wired for it. If change is invoked, particularly in a time of fear, then you better know that the primal mindset of resource scarcity will kick in full-force.
We live in a land of abundance, but that disappears the second we think we’re going to lose a paycheck. Do I have enough? Can I feed my family? You have to consider how change will affect your mindset and the mindset of the people around you. Understand that when your family, your students, or the people you work with are freaking out over a change that they’re reacting from a mindset of resource scarcity.
The status mindset is another reason why we respond negatively to change. We are status creatures. We survive and thrive by developing a social skillset. Therefore, we worry about our status with our in-group, but we also worry about people outside our in-group and how we are perceived by them. It’s a survival thing. How we group is a big deal. When change happens, the first thing we do is worry about how that change will affect our status in the presence of other people in our arena. How will people perceive me? Will I lose their respect?
The most primal mindset we have to be aware of when it comes to change is safety. There’s a primal fear attached to change that makes us feel unsafe, unsettled. It is important to hold space and learn how to create psychological safety for yourself and those around you through nonverbal interpersonal skills. What do I mean by holding space? Simply ask yourself if you, or the people you care about, feel safe. If the answer is no, then take the actions necessary to create a safe environment. That’s holding space.
Change is necessary to thrive, so how do we overcome those primal fear-based mindsets?
When you’re experiencing change, consider this advice from Dr. Kendall Haven: “Rather than talk about all the change you’re going to do in the beginning, talk about what you’re fighting to protect, talk about what you’re fighting to preserve, and involve your people in that. Once you get on the same page and lower the emotional temperature around the white-hot topic of change, then you can start to pivot the conversation toward meaningful change in order to preserve the things that matter.”
This approach co-creates, rather than mandates, solutions with the people who matter to you. This works because it’s a mindset shift that takes us away from primal fear and anchors us to something inclusive, something real. As an example, when discussing things like household budgets, don’t focus on the change or what you have to let go of, but focus on what you are fighting to protect with that budget.
When you talk about what you’re fighting to protect, ask thoughtful, open-ended questions like, what’s keeping you up at night? Better if they can be “we” questions. What do we stand for? How do we protect this? How do we preserve this? Let those questions guide you.
Orienting everything you do on what you’re fighting to protect will allow you to manage change in a meaningful way.
Scott Mann is a former Green Beret who specialized in unconventional, high-impact missions and relationship building. He is the founder of Rooftop Leadership and appears frequently on TV and many syndicated radio programs. For more information, visit RooftopLeadership.com