It’s Not Me! It’s My Brain that Doesn’t Like Change.

Written ByAlex

June 24, 2015

Managing Change in Chaotic Times


I was recently working with a client on a change management strategy to assist individuals, team leaders and the organisations deal with their ongoing business challenges.

One of the senior leaders mentioned to me that it wasn’t so much change that stressed him (he saw that as being part of the job), it was the rate of change and the nature of conflicting changes that burnt out his team and was having a detrimental effect on the business. He described the changes as being chaotic and expressed concern for his people as to how they can best survive long-term in such an environment.

The findings from neuroscience research indicates that our brains do not actually like change. In fact our brains seek certainty – so when we undergo change in chaotic times, our brains feel under threat and releases cortisol, a glucocorticoid (steroid hormone), as a way of protecting ourselves to help us through these periods.

So even our brains struggle with change! The question is, how can you look after yourself and your team when you seem to be going through such chaotic times?

Whilst recently facilitating a strategic planning conference for a senior leadership team, I questioned the group of their own lessons learnt in dealing with and being exposed to change in their career. What made the difference as to whether those change attempts were positive or otherwise?

After a very fruitful truthful and at times soul-searching conversation, the one common factor that came from these peoples reflections was the word trust.

Trust in themselves and their ability to initially survive and then thrive through change. Trust in the people driving the change – that they were coming from a good place for all people involved.

So, to manage and strive through change in chaotic times, it seems to me that it comes back to a matter of trust – trust in yourself and others. So how can we build this trust?

In my own consulting development I have been greatly influenced by the writing of Judith Blaser. In her excellent book Conversation Intelligence she proposes five ways for leaders to lead change in chaotic times. Let me share these with you…

Be Present. People want to connect and during periods of dramatic and chaotic change, this need is enhanced. Practice being present through strategies such as mindfulness and meditation. This is one of the reasons Lessons Learnt Consulting is working with our client base to develop this presence “muscle” so the leaders can “remain in the game” and keep their needed game face on.

Let people know where they stand. People need to know where they stand so they can get let go of their fears and their own questioning around ‘Am I good enough?’ and ‘Do I belong?’ and can refocus on contributing. I believe this is why the business planning process and discussions around accountabilities and expectations (based on behaviors around shared values) are just so important. Business planning works! These processes provide the basis of common discussion that are safe and embracing for all people.

Provide context in every communication. Without background, fear can be increased through confusion and uncertainty. Context can make things that seem bad, seem right – or at least acceptable. Our approach is to whenever we can, talk about the “Why’s” – why we doing it this way, why is this necessary, why aren’t we doing it this way? Be open and encourage people to engage in these conversations.

Catalyze co-creating in organisations. Ensure conversations are dialogues, not monologues, so that people’s voices are heard – or at least people feel as if their voices are heard. Create higher levels of engagement and co-creation so people have an image of “shared success”, to diminish the fear of being lost in the crowd or being overshadowed. Use collaborative language – “we” and “us” as opposed to “you” and “them”.

Use honesty at all times. Don’t be a slave to a sin! No one likes to tell the truth when it may hurt someone or make that person and/or yourself look bad. So we fudge it – we put spin on it! We tell little untruths which can ultimately become big untruths. When these come to light and untruths are discovered, it can give the impression that if you can’t believe a person on a small issue, can you believe them on a big issue? At all times, tell the truth – tactfully and within the appropriate context. Don’t make a situation sound better than it is, even if you can. People want certainty but at times there is no certainty – at that time. In our change management strategies we encourage talking about the “known knowns”, about the “unknown knows” and the “unknown unknowns” – but we make agreements that when the last two categories move to the known knowns, people will be informed. It works!

Think about how you can use these 5 steps in building trust in your personal life, team and organisation. Whilst change may continue to be chaotic, our personal and leadership strategy has to be about focusing people on their reactions to change rather than the change itself.

Lessons Learnt Consulting conducts a one day training program Managing Change in Chaotic Times as part of our public training programs. The dates are outlined in the calendar on our web site. This program is also available to be conducted in house by request.


Recommended Reading:

  • “Conversational Intelligence How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results” Judith Glaser Bibliomotion 2014 
  • “Neuroscience for Coaches How to Use the Latest Insights For The Benefit Of Your Clients” Amy Brann Kogan Pages 2014

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