Show Your Emotion!


Whenever we make the Case for Actionduring change processes, then I very often experience that we feel an urgent need to rationally justify them. Supported by facts and figures regarding why a change is necessary whereby the current status can no longer be the goal. However, change means saying good-bye to something–a condition which is emotional for us and–even if we like to grumble about a lot of things: We still like this condition because we are familiar with it. With something new, we have not yet developed an emotional connection and thus can only assess it with great difficulty. Thus, we often try in the Case for Actionto provide objective arguments and hope that they thus create emotions. The strategy of the rationalization of emotional themes is quite critical to assess.


The neurobiological research shows that purely cognitive insights affect minimal change, but rather emotional “restructurings” are of significance. Accordingly, in the communication of successful changes, we must succeed in appealing to the emotions–slides and long presentations only rarely accomplish this. The upper frontal lobe as the location of intelligence and reason has accordingly only minimal influence on the lower frontal lobe as the location of moral-ethical control, risk assessment and controlling feelings while the inverse influence can be massive. Thus, big changes will only then succeed if the pain of the current situation is already being felt. With regards to existential threats, this is often the case and also even there the pain can be perceived quite differently across the organization. The top management will always be integrated earlier into this change (pain) process owing to the fact that it receives the information sooner. Even if employees perceive that no change is truly threatening the company’s existence, they will often nonetheless embark down this path of change. An insight which unfortunately often is not received until it’s too late (and very often, never received at all).


But it does not, and should not, have to always be an existential threat which moves us to change. In NeuroChange, we have the conviction that organizations should always change in small steps in which they learn to emotionally perceive their experiences from the changes. The new thing must be emotionally internalized into us (projected future in the timeline drills). It is the upper limbic level which possesses direct access to the amygdala and the hypothalamus which, upon their part, possess conduct-relevant centers in the brain stem and the spinal cord. The organism must “learn how to learn”. The agile approach, which transfers the collective experience from the cycles into the subject learning, is substantially better-suited for this than a step-by-step change process as we have learned in many change models. 


George Edward Pelham Box (Professor of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Wisconsin) said that “essentially all models are wrong, but some are useful”. In this regard, I do not want in any way to generally rail against change models. Models are supposed to give us the ideas to individualize our change models based upon the organization. In order to provide proof of this, I present a model which I use as the basis for all transformation processes, the course of the grief phases based upon the model from Elisabeth Kübler-Ross: A phase of shock is followed by denial, anger, grief, adaptation and finally acceptance. Each of these phases has its reason for existence and can also not be skipped. We may not ignore emotions. We must work with them because there is never a change that is made without emotions. 


But, in the end, the change process must thus create those emotions which move us humans to take risks, to experience something new. Reasonable recommendations and insights alone are not able to sustainably influence people while our emotions–particularly also in the form of stress, reward and pain–can strongly influence our thoughts and actions. In our change management process, one of the most difficult tasks is to handle emotions. We are often not accustomed to this and nobody has really taught us this (oftentimes, we don’t even succeed in accomplishing this in the private environment). But change can succeed only if the employees “buy in”–abandon familiar things, try new things and, wherever possible, also exchange their own position for something that is unknown. This isn’t easy for everyone and each person will need a different amount of time for this. If we nonetheless have a little more courage to take the time for this and to allow emotions into our (professional) life–even if this is sometimes very difficult for us–it will be worthwhile. Thus: Colleagues, show emotions!

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