Stressed out woman staring at laptop while chewing pencil.

I was speaking with a client, the CEO and owner of a small business with twenty employees. He was deeply frustrated that he hadn’t been able to make any progress on a significant change he wanted his team to make. He wanted them to become more responsive and proactive, so he hired us to help.

Most people are resistant to change. There are a number of reasons why:

1. We’re hard-wired to seek sameness as a shortcut to safety.

The amygdala, part of the limbic system, is constantly scanning the environment for potential threats. Unfortunately, anything that’s new or different is perceived as a threat. 

2. We’re inherently afraid of failure; our culture fosters perfectionism.

Think about it: from the time we’re five years old, we’re taught that failing more than 30% of the time is unacceptable (that’s a C grade). In the real world, failure rates hover in the 85-96% range. Success is anything but a sure thing.

3. We’re afraid of the unknown.

This relates to the limbic system that is responsible for the fight/flight/freeze/fawn responses. Unknown = unsafe.

4. Most of us are working in a corporate culture that doesn’t encourage failure, even when they say they do. 

With the deck stacked against you, how can you overcome people’s natural resistance to change?

1. Develop a culture of psychological safety.

Psychological safety is the very foundation of cohesive, agile teams. High-performing teams develop a culture of deep, vulnerability-based trust that creates a sense of psychological safety. It takes time to develop a culture like this, but there are specific practices we teach teams to adopt. Some examples include: develop emotional intelligence, learn how to have difficult conversations in real time, and develop a practice of continuous feedback. 

2. Practice failing as a team in a facilitated space.

This is one of my favorite things to do. We get a team together offsite and take them through a series of games (yes, games) that first illuminate the ways in which their culture isn’t optimal, and then teach them how to work better together, brainstorm solutions, and find the best outcomes. 

3. Celebrate failures as they happen.

Lots of companies give lip service to celebrating failure, but very few actually practice it. Do you highlight the best failure every month? Do you have a Slack channel for people to post their failures and what they learned from them? Those are just two ways you can celebrate failure.

4. Practice mindfulness.

Studies have shown that people with a regular meditation practice are more resilient to change. One, in particular, showed that 50-year-olds who meditated for fifteen minutes a day had minds as nimble as 25-year-olds. A regular mindfulness practice makes a person more creative, more adaptable to change, and more resilient in the face of failure. 

Do you have a story about an epic failure? Please share it in the comments!

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About The Author

Johanna Lyman's picture

Johanna Lyman (she/her or they/them) is the Principal Consultant and Practice Leader for Culture and Inclusion at Kadabra. She is a dynamic, energetic Leadership and Culture coach and consultant with nearly 30 years of experience of leadership development and culture change.

She is adept at combining coaching, training, and facilitation to help clients build sustainably profitable businesses while creating deep meaning in their work. She quickly establishes rapport and creates a container of psychological safety, belonging, and deep trust with her clients and their teams. She believes that inclusion and diversity should be seen as the natural outcomes of building great cultures.

Johanna is wife to the best husband on the planet, mother to an adult daughter, and dog-mom to Petey the Amazing Tripod.

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