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The Sense of Coherence

 

Aaron Antonovsky described health as the location on a continuum »which extends from torturous emotional pain and total psychological dysfunction to a complete, powerful feeling of psychological well-being«. He thus defined the term »health« as being »mental health« while not making explicit reference to the physical health. If a human being is exposed to various stressors, then he enters into a state of tension. Whether this state is experienced as stress depends on the »management« of this tension. Via one’s resources, one can reduce the effects of stressors, avoid them or even profit from them based upon a sense of »stress inoculation«. Antonovsky assumed that stressors are omnipresent. One cannot avoid them, they are always there and constantly demand a management of this tension.

 

Even during change processes, we experience tensions which are based upon stressors on various levels. If changes do not then bring the planned and desired success, then the company’s management often reacts in a stressed manner and increases the pressure – which then once again generates increased tensions within the system. But why is this not the same at all companies? Some companies can deal much better with the unforeseeable than other companies. In this case, Antonovsky is relying on system-theoretical considerations. Omnipresent stressors initially create chaos. This chaos generates conflicts and thus tension. However, from the chaos, an order can be developed and structures in the chaos can be recognized. This is ensured through information. Information is created through the utilization of redundancies, through the reduction of entropy. Antonovsky calls this ability or possibility of producing redundancies the sense or the feeling of coherence.

 

During change processes, things work analogously. Whenever tension is created, the feeling of the process is not being controlled, it is devolving into chaos. Oftentimes, this impression is created because the employees do not have sufficient information about the process. In this situation, they endeavor to once again turn structure into chaos by obtaining information in this regard – the so-called “office grapevine” experiences its highpoint. Some company Managers then endeavor to stymy this office grapevine – an impossible undertaking. Arnd Schaff and Tim Wyes reflect in an article in the OrganizationDevelopment journal on the theme “Informal Communication as a Pillar during the Change Process”, that we should learn to use these informal channels (than to endeavor to forbid them). Informal information is then the stress inoculation from which Antonovsky speaks. They offer the management – in addition to the official channels – the opportunity to contact the employees and to disseminate information (in a targeted manner). In this regard, the multipliers play an essential role which, as a rule, are not part of the management team. They are colleagues who are extremely well-networked at the company and enjoy a high degree of trust among the other employees. Multipliers are situated at the interfaces of informal communication.

 

This exchange of information goes in both directions. In this context, the management receives a sense of the mood – namely how the employees truly feel about the change process. What are their related anxieties, hopes and wishes? However, via these channels, information can also be communicated in both directions which one shouldn’t disseminate via the official channels. However, in the case of employees, this can also lead to a psychological unburdening by stimulating the brain’s activities resulting in the contribution of ideas and/or stress reduction owing to the “letting-off of steam”.

 

Informal communication is regarded as being a participative process and reduces not only the stress level in change processes, but rather also the probability of reactance and resistance. Informal communication is part of internal communication at each company – it is only the question of whether one uses this tool during the change process or can be effective in an uncontrolled fashion. Uncontrolled processes bring the risk that they can easily end in chaos. If we don’t want this, then we should not close ourselves off to this part of communication, but rather positively utilize it.


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