In The Dilbert Principles, Dilbert said, “Change is good. You go first.”
That one little quip captures the essence of trying to do something differently. Change is commonly resisted and often actively resisted, combined with a variety of reasons and excuses. People tend to rationalize the many reasons why something cannot be changed. Let me use a simple example of teaching someone to play pool.
In pool, one holds a cue stick and attempts to hit the cue ball into an object ball and then into a pocket. It is a fun and simple game and everyone can play. The balls are stationary until you hit one into another. Obviously, how and where one hits on the cue ball influences the level of success; striking the cue ball consistently and accurately hitting the object ball allows one to pocket more balls than hitting randomly.
So, there are skills around holding and swinging the cue stick related to the position of the head and eyes and arm and what is called “a bridge,” which is the placement of the hand closest to the cue ball which holds the cue stick for aiming. HOW one forms the bridge influences how stable the bridge is and how accurately and consistently one can then strike the cue ball. Some bridges are MUCH more stable than others and experienced players do this little thing MUCH better than people starting to learn the game.
But, the reality is that once people get comfortable with their bridge, they become resistant to changing / improving their hand position. One would think changing a hand position would be a simple thing; but repetition and habit generally make the newer player actively resistant to learning a newer or better way of doing this. This is generally a consistent kind of resistance to learning. So, in teaching pool, bridging is one of the first things to be addressed. And the active resistance is clear.
There is a simple exercise that works great to expose those things that underpin this active resistance and to increase the probability of change. So, I start by holding both hands up, fingers apart and wiggling and then fold my hands together, interlocking my fingers. When I do this, my left thumb is on top but the other person (or people) will do theirs randomly; it does not seem to be related to handedness, in my experience. Some people simply do it with their right thumbs winding up on top. So, ask them which thumb they put on top.
Then, unfold your fingers and wiggle them again and interlock them the other way, so your other thumb is on top. Ask the other person to do this. And observe the process. Most people will fumble with this a bit. Some might even have to try it again. ALL will feel uncomfortable. Why?
Because they probably have never before interlocked their fingers this new way.
Many will need to actually concentrate on doing this differently. They will actually study their hands and fingers and carefully look (probably for the very first time) how they have their fingers interlocked.
But do not stop here. What you then do is fold your arms across your chest. Ask them to fold their arms. Then, after they are comfortable with this, you will fold your arms exactly the opposite, so that things are not like they were at first. (I encourage you to practice this a few times before you demonstrate because it IS difficult to do for many people!) If your left hand is under your right upper arm and your right hand is over your left biceps, for example, reverse it so your right hand is under and your left hand is over. (If you try this right now, you will see why some practice is necessary, so practice it a few times so you can appear to do this easily.)
You will see, in all likelihood, the other person flounder around with this. Ask them why and they will probably give you some reason or other but the reality is that things are more difficult and uncomfortable when you have never done them differently than you normally do. (The phenomenon can be termed behavioral flexibility — note that there are a dozen ways one can make a bridge in pool, each used in different circumstances so being comfortable with doing a bridge differently is a real skill!)
The third part of this is optional to do but easily demonstrated, or even discussed. When people cross their legs (and there are a few different ways to do this like at the ankle or over the knee), they will “naturally and normally” change leg positions because staying in one position cuts off the blood flow and becomes painful. People learn to cross their legs differently because of this and they do not ever consider leg position and reversal an issue. (Pain / discomfort is a good motivator for change!)
Okay, so, it you have actually DONE the above exercises and interlocked your fingers and arms differently, you will have undoubtedly felt the discomfort associated with doing things differently. Perfect! And you now understand clearly that dealing with discomfort is always associated with change and that being less uncomfortable being uncomfortable is a really good learning point, something that can help you better deal with change in the future.
Now, in the example above, I went through how all this related to teaching someone how to improve their pool game. I hope it helps you with your game, too!
But the ideas underlying sharing these simple exercises are that you can use them with others in your efforts to improve workplace performance, to help decrease active resistance to new ideas and to the feelings common when one implements new ideas. Do this with others and have some fun making people re-assess their thoughts and reactions. Apply this to your leadership efforts.
For the FUN of It!
Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant. He is a CPF and CPT and holds a doctorate in behavioral neuropsychology from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Scott is co-Founder of The Square Wheels Project and currently working on being retired in Cuenca, Ecuador while still supporting a variety of business improvement projects.
You can reach Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org