Change, in whatever form is unsettling. It requires us to leave the place we are accustomed to and enter into the intrapersonal – within ourselves – psychobiological shifts (emotions, body postures, overt behaviors and moods) that occur as well as the external interpersonal – with other people – conversations. And the subsequent psychobiological shifts in the people we are in conversation with!
I personally see myself as loving change, welcoming it in fact, but the reality is far less simple and ideal. I have a confusing and challenging time with change – unless I initiate it.
When we are thinking about change for ourselves, we often conceptualize it far ahead of implementation. During this process, we weigh the positive and negative aspects of the change. When we finally get around to implementing, which could be months later, we have done our due diligence and feel the change would serve us or is necessary. Then we bring our final product, the ‘change’ to the people in our lives.
If we are not in the regular conversation with them around our change, the pros and cons, and challenges of said shift, then they are probably a bit blindsided by our change. They may react differently than we hoped. They may take a long time to come around to our idea. They may intend to work really hard to support us, but the impact on us feels as if they are pulling us back to the status quo with their words and actions.
To react this way is totally normal, healthy in fact, but if we don’t know that, we can feel under-supported, resentful and helpless to sustain the change.
This scenario happens in relationships, families, organizations, governments, countries and anywhere there are people with differing ideas.
To make the change easier, with less transition time, we are required to do some upfront work that we likely don’t want to do. We need to have anywhere from one to many difficult conversations.
Conversations are called difficult because if we are willing to commit to change it is because there is an essential commitment that we would like to inhabit more fully which is vitally important to the way we live in the world. To reveal this truth, our truth, makes us vulnerable, means we are not already perfect (i.e. could occasionally be wrong) and exposes us to others who could and sometimes do and have taken advantage of our vulnerability.
To expose this vulnerability takes courage and if it is taken advantage of we feel violated. We have probably felt this in the past which is why we fear difficult conversations and avoid them at all costs! What would it be like to have this risk be present and move ahead with the difficult conversation anyway knowing we were safe?
Another aspect of a difficult conversations is when we share our change, truth, shift, and it has an impact on another person or within our organization. To succeed with the change means that we also have to listen to another’s point of view.
To really listen means to suspend our desires and beliefs and take on those of another. This generous and necessary act can illicit the fear of losing ourselves. Trying to hold onto or know again who we are is likely why we are initiating the change in the first place. Which makes giving up our position in order to listen to another person’s opinion, about our change (!), even more challenging.
Since our psychobiology does not distinguish between real fear (a bear coming to eat us) and social fear (sharing something deeply important to us with another person) it reacts and creates a trigger response. If we don’t know this, the difficult conversation can turn into an outright battle for survival: a deep, psychobiological desire to win at all costs usually with lots of collateral damage.
When we take the time to understand the intricacies of our reaction and we have practices set in place to manage our triggers when they occur, difficult conversations become easier, still tough, but definitely more productive and supportive.
Understanding the “how” of difficult conversations can make change easier. If we can be aware of what is happening, how we feel and what part of us is at stake in the conversation we have the potential to take our usual conversations to a new place – where we can hear and be heard – and isn’t that what we all want.
Join me, invite perspective.