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.


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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Beliefs became a topic of study when I was developing my Managing Difficult Conversations training program. I kept asking myself; “When and How do we change beliefs?” and ”What are the barriers that keep you and I locked into our beliefs not wanting – or not able to change?”

So lets answer these questions… and if you have any other questions or thoughts, please comment / submit them below.

What Are Beliefs?


Changing a belief; like climbing a mountain.

Beliefs govern our behaviour. I like how James P. Carse (Professor Emeritus of history and literature of religion at New York University), explains beliefs as having boundaries.

I’m visually oriented (please stick with me), so in my mind I see the beliefs / boundaries as walls of a home. This home has rooms which contain and support our goals and values. We are very comfortable and feel protected in this home. There are doors and windows, but the windows have curtains (that makes it difficult to see a different perspective), and the doors are locked. We cannot leave unless we choose to unlock the door and then make another choice to leave the house (but those two actions don’t happen easily).

This home is built using the social, political and entertainment norms we’ve grown up with. It’s also built with the education and the experiences we’ve had. We experience conflict and feel stress when our boundaries (our beliefs), are exposed to different norms that we can’t ignore (like someone banging on the door). Argh!!! And shouting “Go Away” doesn’t work.

Our Beliefs Guide Our Behaviour

When we are calm and happy in our home, our beliefs guide the ideas we have, our judgements and assumptions. They create a base for many of the automatic responses we have to the world around us. Beliefs act as support structures for our behaviour and control our actions like:

  • Where we live
  • Who we spend time with
  • How we behave
  • How we think others should behave
  • What grocery stores or restaurants we attend
  • For Millennials And Gen Zers especially, it’s likely their beliefs will guide who they work for

Beliefs Can Be Helpful: Because our beliefs shape our actions and how we experience the world, we depend on their consistency to keep us safe and to help us make predictable, automatic decisions. We don’t have to analyze every moment of our lives and every decision. Our boundaries make life easy because we stop being curious about many things.

Beliefs Can Be Restrictive: Because our beliefs create a boundary within which inquiry and curiosity is very limited, our beliefs keep us from trying new things. Beliefs have rigidity and closure – we can actually become fearful of trying new things…  surprise is ruled out. Most of the time when this happens (and this is important), people do not realize how constrained beliefs keep them.

When we react automatically without thinking or analysis it feels safe, it saves time, it feels good… it can even make us feel smart… and this is why it’s so difficult to change people’s mind.

Believing offers people emotional safety, the potential to speak with authority… to be respected and even honoured.

Changing Beliefs

Believers will always be able to answer any question and their answer will seem perfectly rational (to them), even if there is no proof. If you don’t agree with their beliefs then they’ll think you are the one who is wrong… which makes it difficult to win an argument with a believer.

Asking someone to adopt new beliefs puts their current reality and support structures at risk; you are asking them to move from a familiar and secure place. This will be very unsettling to them – feelings most people try to avoid. Because we depended on our barriers of beliefs, we will accept even illogical arguments to support them.

Changing BeliefsTo change a belief you have to create a reality where the person will feel safe. Believers must have something new to believe in – new support structures (including new emotional supports). Then, give them an opportunity to change/migrate their beliefs – like a ship crossing an ocean moving from one port to another.

Stories are powerful tools to change beliefs because stories often trigger emotions, and emotions are proven to be better motivators than logic. Stories push creativity – curiosity – wonder – ideas – judgment – humanity – empathy – compassion and… independent thought.

Like I suggested above, logic alone will often not work (if it did people would not smoke). But if you are able to emotionally trigger people, you’ll be on your way to changing their beliefs.


Beliefs give us security, dependability and confidence; we use them to justify our behaviour. They control almost every decision we make or judgement we have. Our beliefs help us predict what tomorrow will bring and give us the confidence and comfort to predict the types of challenges we might face, the people we will meet, how we will act, the conversations we will have, the foods we will eat – and so on.

Beliefs make our lives easier… we depend on them even thought our beliefs are often illogical, unproven and even contradictory. And yet, we count on them for much of our emotional and practical well-being.

PS: Supporting Our Beliefs About People

Beliefs give us rules on how we should act and in many cases what to think. Because of this we tend to decide whether we like or dislike people very quickly – often based on one thing. We then use every other experience we have with that person to support our decision; for example, you may think “I like Doug’s politics,” therefore you’ll find Doug’s voice pleasant and then might begin to list all the things you have in common…. however, if you don’t like Doug’s politics, you will likely find many other things about them unpleasant (like their voice or how they dress). In other words, if you believe in the conclusion, you will also begin to believe any of the arguments (strong or weak), that will support the conclusion. Like saying “I don’t like fish because I don’t like the smell of canned smoke oysters.”

Happy communicating.

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Are You Changing Fast Enough?

Change is all around us … from how quickly my nieces’ 2 year old daughter is growing to the explosion of computing power, social media, Millennials entering the workforce and global warming. Even our cars are getting software upgrades.

Change is relentless and it’s changing how we approach everything. The one thing we can be confident of is that something important in our day-to-day encounters is likely going to change very soon… or is now.

Are You Changing Fast Enough?

Change Puzzle

Change Puzzle

It’s not a question of should you change – it’s a question of are you changing fast enough?

But, how can you keep changing while also getting your Important Work done? This is a real challenge because change is now a constant – which means the way most organizations work through change no longer works… because most organizations are not built to be adaptable – to be resilient – and therefore they are being left behind. We only have to look at giants like Blackberry, Kodak and Eaton’s for evidence.

How do we build a work environment that is adaptable – to be resilient?

The solution is to turn on your employees, ignite their passion so that they inspire innovation and take pride in creating wonderful adaptable solutions. Some solutions will be almost unnoticeable, and some complex… and yet all change can to ignite passion and keep your organization moving forward and your employees interested, proud and loyal… for at least a little while longer.

Because we all know bored Millennials leave, you have to train people well enough so they can leave… but don’t want to leave. This goes for employees of any generation.

Abandon routine.

Leaders Embrace Adaptable, Collaborative Teams

Everyone gets to lead – you don’t have to be the President of the company.

Leadership is about adaptability, customer loyalty and employee engagement. The role of a leader is to define a future vision that inspires employees to achieve great things. Leaders support their team as the team designs client focussed solutions to support the vision… but leaders also support the individuals of the team to set and achieve great personal goals.

I like to look at non-presidential leadership as collaboration. A collaborative team evolves as the project evolves. Different people take on more critical roles when necessary and then step aside when its time for another expert to step in. For example, if you have a collaborative team responsible for publishing a magazine this project might proceed as follows:

  1. The Leader identifies the vision for the magazine
  2. The whole Collaborative Team identifies the approach. In this case… to use business stories
  3. The sales specialist takes the lead to hunt for clients and great business stories
  4. The whole Collaborative Team selects which stories to use
  5. The writers take the lead to perform the client interviews and write the stories
  6. The editor leads the editing and alignment of the stories
  7. The graphic designers lead the team (especially sales specialist), to find appropriate images and design
  8. The whole Collaborative Team agrees and signs off on design
  9. The print expert leads the physical creation of the magazine

Like any good organization, this collaborative team is always reinventing itself. Collaborative groups engage the right people at the right time – letting others focus on their other important work / projects until their specialty is required… then they join in as long as needed… keeping them engaged and inspired.

Organizations are adaptive and responsive to emerging needs / technology / opportunities when innovation and collaboration is rewarded by customer and employee loyalty, therefore making them more resilient… which is rewarded by investors.

Put Diversity To Work

Diversity helps drive innovative, thoughtful, smart change… and vision. In a collaborative setting diversity and respect promote creativity, empathy and therefore relationships, flexibility and results.

Diversity = Innovative Opportunities

Some diversity options to be aware of include:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Orientation
  • Culture:
    • First generation vs. Second or Third generation
  • Socioeconomic background
  • Business / industry familiarity
  • Skill set / experience

The success of any person, team or company is the ability to adapt.

Reward Mistakes As Learning

You might think your management team isn’t ready to lead. How will you know if they don’t get a chance to learn, grow and make a mistake or two.

Some of the best learning is gained by making mistakes and learning what not to do. You may even discover a whole new approach or product/service. Kevin Chou outlines this well in his article ‘Something Good Usually Comes When Bold Innovators Make Mistakes.

Even professional racecar drivers scrape a bumper from time to time.

Change (diversity, exploration and collaboration) are mute if an organization culture reward conformity and punish dialogue, new ideas and the opportunity to learn from our mistakes. Change requires trust in your own ability to make a decision and trust in your associates to provide valuable input (why you hired them), and trust that your organization will support you – even during set-backs. This trust allows you to keep moving – to keep learning – to keep developing.

In most organizations there is little incentive to abandon the familiar – silos are created and protected. Failure is penalized vs. seen as a natural part of growth and a learning opportunity.


Change is a constant – not a destination. Are you changing fast enough? Whatever you build has to be adaptable… resilient.

Encourage dialogue. Practice active mindful listening. Don’t be held back by things you tried a few years ago and didn’t work out… much has changed in the last few years. Think of how frequently Apple releases a new iPhone.

The saying used to be “If it aint broke don’t fix it.” Now the saying almost has to be “If it exists, break it and improve.” Today’s economy is providing great opportunities, but with low entry fees and greater opportunities to get your message out; competition and innovation is coming from every direction.

It’s not only the customers who want something special – so do employees. Are your people prepared for change? Do they know what to expect – and how they are empowered?

If you enjoyed this post we think you’ll like:

Bruce Mayhew Consulting facilitates courses including Business Writing, Email Etiquette, Time Management and Mindfulness.

Bruce Mayhew on Canada AM

Give us a call at 416 617 0462. We’ll listen.

Find answers to your Professional Development questions / needs at

I’d enjoy reading your comments on this post.

View Bruce Mayhew's profile on LinkedIn

Bruce Mayhew Consulting

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