Beliefs & Change Management

About a month ago I wrote about beliefs. I frequently discuss beliefs – most often in the Difficult Conversation training I do – but I think a discussion is relevant in this public forum because how beliefs impact our minute-by-minute experiences and behavior. I also think the discussion is relevant because the current international political climate provides many a unique ‘global’ examples of how beliefs impact change as well as strengthen and weaken bonds.

At a basic level our beliefs define us and our behaviour. As I said in my earlier post, Beliefs are the foundation for what we believe about ourselves and the world around us… they may also represent what we WANT to believe about ourselves and the world around us.”Beliefs and Change Management

So as a discussion point, let me begin by asking you… “What motivates you to change your beliefs?” I’m sure you’ll agree that it takes a lot to change your beliefs… especially deeply held beliefs. Changing a belief is rarely easy; it usually takes time and patience – even if someone is open to listening / learning. But imagine trying to change someone’s belief who has a vested interest in keeping his or her belief intact. For example:

  • Imagine I believe I deserve a promotion (and then don’t get it).
  • Imagine I believe the way we’ve always done it is how we should do it moving forward.
  • Imagine I believe a politician will bring my job back – even though automation has been shrinking the global workforce for years.
  • Imagine my whole life I’ve believed I hate all green vegetables, (even though I’ve only ever tasted spinach… once… 20 years ago).

Trying to force people (or countries), to change their beliefs doesn’t work. Personally, I hold on steadfast if I feel pressured – I bet you act similarly. Or, if we are forced to change our belief – we may do it only to get our bosses off our back or to fit in (peer pressure), and we go back to our original belief as soon as we can. Pressuring others to change his or her beliefs just doesn’t work.

But change is inevitable and change is accelerating. This means we have to learn safe ways to challenge each others beliefs. Change management requires we help people make informed decisions and help each other evolve to take advantage of new opportunities… and not hold onto beliefs that will hurt us in the short or long-term.

Sure – believing you hate green vegetables isn’t going to do you much harm (I hope you are eating other vegetables). But holding onto the belief that your product / service shouldn’t evolve may have long-term negative consequences.

When we question our beliefs and they remain intact then that is great… in fact, we might find a deeper understanding of our beliefs. But, we must be open to the exploration… and to the reality that our beliefs may change… and that either way we will be better because we’ve evolved.

How do we begin the process of exploring our beliefs? Or, how do we introduce the idea to our team? My recommendation is as follows:

  • Step 1. Set ground rules for engaging – set a space of mutual respect
  • Step 2. Everyone must be open to listen, learn and share, but never try to force change.
  • Step 3. Agree to set aside negative judgment or biases.
  • Step 4. Everyone must accept science, data and proven theories – we cannot accept lies or untruths.
  • Step 5. Faith is OK. However, if you want others to respect that you have ‘faith’ – you must respect other people’s ‘faith’ equally.

I strongly agree with a famous quote from Senator Daniel Patrick “Pat” Moynihan, (March 16, 1927 – March 26, 2003), “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.” I believe that we can choose to believe in something – have faith in something that is unproven… but our belief can not dispute what is scientifically proven or state your unproven belief as fact (or Alternative Facts).

Since 2017 may go down as a year of ‘Alternative Facts’ I think Senator Moynihan’s words are critically important. Basically, I believe what Senator Moynihan means is if I’m going to say I hate all green vegetables, I had better have tried all of them… or at least most of them. I can’t dismiss all green vegetables if I have only had one experience.

If you are a leader, consider the people around you. When you help them understand their beliefs and enter into respectful dialogue about those beliefs (not a threatened argument), you can trust them to make good decisions in the context of change management.

All of this assumes that the beliefs in question aren’t morally or legally problematic or go against corporate values, mission or vision. For example: If my belief is that I should be able to drive 120kms in a school zone… then I’m going to have to change… no compromise. And if my belief goes against society norms or law, I will accept the consequences of standing up for my beliefs.

In the end, I cannot correct your beliefs and I cannot be responsible for your beliefs or actions… only you can.

As long as we are both speaking truth and can back up our position with reliable data, we have to accept each others statements and beliefs. I can engage you – challenge you – I can even express if I agree with you or not – but I can not force you to change. And, in the end perhaps you don’t change your belief – but after an open, honest respectful dialogue we have a better understanding on how to move forward… with (hopefully), greater mutual respect. And, through the experience we may learn there are multiple ways to understand the world. Your way and my way are not mutually exclusive.

Conclusion

We owe it to ourselves to ask difficult questions and to watch, listen and learn from people we respect. And, we also need to respect proven data and think independently. In the end, you and I are the only people who can truly determine what is best for ourselves.

And yes, unfortunately there are truly hateful people – people bent on cheating others, but when we know better we do better. When we are aware of our beliefs and our core values we can act independently and make decisions with confidence. We can be sure our beliefs will guide our actions well.

Happy communicating… mentoring… and training.

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