“As far as inner transformation is concerned, there is nothing you can do about it. You cannot transform yourself, and you cannot transform your partner or anybody else. All you can do is create a space for transformation to happen, for grace and love to enter.” ~Eckhart Tolle
We left off the last post with a project scenario, a discussion of some of the dynamics in the project team and a resolution to work on creating space to process personal emotional triggers properly and build the “muscle” to operate in real time.
The weird thing
On a good day I begin with a calm and objective assessment of the situation. I remain centered and effective.
I can review whether our plans and execution were appropriate and effective, and can develop mitigation strategies if necessary.
I can consider that others are triggered and the level of their emotion is likely exacerbated by change fatigue, absorbing the emotional energy of their team, etc. and I can hold space for them.
Some days tho I second-guess myself and become defensive. Why is this?
The #1 Challenge – triggered personally
As an agent, I know I am not personally targeted by the changes. I know I don’t have to learn new processes and systems or build new relationships to get the work done. Furthermore, intellectually I understand exactly what’s going on here. I know that people are under pressure and dealing with their own emotions through the change. And I know that, as a serious career professional, I am pretty competent at this work.
So I can tell myself not to take it personally. Yet sometimes I do.
My blood feels like it’s racing and I catch myself running all kinds of scripts in my head (scenarios, rationalizations, projections). On some level I know that the response I want to give is inappropriate, maybe even counter-productive, and I find myself split between what’s happening in the room and what’s happening in my head.
Flow is gone – there is no logical next step, there is only distraction.
This can take many sneaky forms. It can be as straight forward as almost overwhelming self doubt (as in “what if I am wrong about this assessment?” or “what if I don’t know enough to help this client successfully through this change?”) or as complex as old neuroses that prompt an out-of-proportion reaction.
Don’t get me wrong, some self doubt is required. Humility is ours whether we operate this way or whether the universe sees fit to remind us. However, this is different in that it is temporarily debilitating.
So, if I know that am I triggered, why can’t I control it better? This is not an easy answer to unpack and even once I think I know, it is still pretty difficult to dial back to objectivity.
The Change Practitioner Stance
It would probably be helpful to clarify my own going-in mindset about the appropriate stance for a change practitioner:
- The role of the change practitioner requires us to be almost clinical about the change – to understand its criteria and dynamics, to plan and execute somewhat impersonally
- We are committed to the success of the endeavor but it is not our endeavor – it belongs to the leader and the “business”
- We are “agents” of the leader – we advise, sometimes represent and act on behalf of the leader. Often we are acting in the background preparing the leader to lead change.
Our role requires equanimity: “Equanimity is a state of mind that is reflected in a state of being. It is an evenness of mind, neither elated nor depressed, and it is experienced as being in the presence of someone who is not emotionless, but who does not become emotional; someone who is deeply caring, yet is not immobilized by painful decisions or actions; someone who is aware of all that is going on and all that must be accomplished, yet remains reasoned and controlled in working to get it done.” Conner Partners
Having said all that …
We are not immune
So we’re humans too and we are subject to the same neurological reactions to change as everyone else. I have come to accept that understanding it intellectually is great but it only helps so much.
We may manage it better than others. Sure we know that we should foster our resilience habits and we may have more tolerance as we work these “muscles”.
And, even so, most of us have our own insecurities, our own “internal critic”, that can be woken up and make us defensive – a state that can blind us to the needs of the work, and of our colleagues and sponsors. If we’re very lucky (and practice helps) we might become self aware enough to know when this happens and take some action.
In “Mindfully Holding Space” Daryl Conner describes a technique for creating room for reflection for our clients. Seems to me that we should use this for ourselves first, much like applying the oxygen mask to ourselves in case of an airline crisis.
What does this “holding space” mean? Here is his definition:
“The purpose of this kind of space is to provide the client with a safe learning environment in which to examine presenting circumstances and potential responses without the pressures and impediments that typically exist when these kinds of explorations take place.”
Such space allows the client to feel:
- “Dissatisfied with their status quo
- Neither judged nor criticized
- Accepted and cared for
- Pensive and self-reflective
- Curious and open to experimentation
- Challenged but safe
- Vulnerable but protected
- Assisted but accountable
- Somber but hopeful
- Stretched but whole
- Prudent but courageous
- Unsure but tenacious
- Careful but open to examining the unfamiliar
- Respectful of what has worked but eager to learn what is new
- Open to new possibilities”
Holding space for yourself
It’s hard to do this for ourselves, especially in the moment.
At my best, I can muster a “Let me look into that and get back to you” to buy myself some time.
However, it helps to establish a “buddy system” or take on a coach. To be clear, it’s not easy but it helps. Let’s be honest it is damn hard to say to someone you respect “I think I’m in trouble here.” “This is not going well.” … “I need help.”
This is a place of some reputational risk and we need people who we trust enough to be vulnerable with. It has feel safe – it has to BE safe. It’s not enough to find someone who can maintain confidentiality or who has more experience.
What we also need is someone who will invest in us enough to have some difficult and probably uncomfortable conversations. Not someone who will “save us” rather someone who will help us find our own way out. Someone who will say “Look this work is damn hard. It has chewed up and spit out any number of people but I am with you. We will figure this out together.
How can your buddy help facilitate your reflection? A little more on the “universal attributes” from Daryl Conner:
- “Providing information and cognitive input, or depending more on discussing experiences and lessons learned
- Engaging in cutting to the chase, or demonstrating unending patience and compassion
- Coming forward with gentle observations, or applying explicit “tough love” feedback
- Allowing the person some time alone to think things through, or engaging him or her in challenging dialogue
- Beginning conversations with blank-slate starting points, or with a POV that serves as a straw man
- Approaching him or her with probing questions, or jointly developing alternative scenarios
- Using metaphors and stories, or relying more on concepts and analysis
Finding your triggers
Well, this is the hardest part and there are no magic blog posts of top ten lists for you here.
This can come through reflection (the 5 whys are helpful) but mostly I have found it comes through conversations.
I have come to rely on many like-minded practitioners in my network for whole-hearted, deeply honest and vulnerable conversations about why we do what we do.
The best I can do at this point is encourage you to pursue this. It is the way to tune the instrument.
Wrap up .. for now
This brings us to the end of this series … but not the end of the endless journey.
Did any of this resonate for you? How do you manage your triggers – any tips for me?
Really appreciate your thoughts, feedback and exchange. And if you’re getting something out of this please do share it on LinkedIn and Twitter.
Post Note: After I wrote this post a couple of weeks ago I was fortunate to come across this post from Heather Plett “How to hold space for yourself first” – the 7 tips are excellent!
 “How do People Learn to Adapt to Change”, Change Thinking, Daryl Conner, Conner Partners, Nov 2010
 “How Resilient are You”, Change Thinking, Daryl Conner, Conner Partners, Feb 2010
 “Mindfully Holding Space”, Daryl Conner, Conner Partners, Nov 2010
- A virtuous cycle of confessions and resolutions. Part 1
- Us vs them. A virtuous cycle of confessions and resolutions. Part 2
- #1 Challenge. A virtuous cycle of confessions and resolutions. Part 3
- 10 Tips for becoming a Trusted Advisor in Change Management
- Stuck: 10 questions to break a mindset. A strange conversation with a stranger. Post 2
Change Whisperer by www.gailseverini.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.