Change and (Positive) Emotions

January 7, 2013

joyFor years in training around the world I’ve said – “There is always an emotional component to change.”  And people have typically nodded in agreement.  After all, personal experience will tell anyone this is true.  There have been changes in your life you were excited about, and those where your emotions were, let’s say, less positive.

Yet generally speaking, organizations act as if the data and facts will rule the day with any change.

There is no perfect PowerPoint deck to communicate, influence and champion change – it’s not enough.  And because the emotional piece of the puzzle is missing, ignored or denied, we aren’t very good at creating organizational change (and it is one reason many view any organizational change with a wary eye from the start).

So what can you, as a leader do to reverse this trend, and get better results from your change efforts?

You can recognize, value and manage the emotions related to change.  I’ll talk about recognition of, and listening to people’s initial emotions in a future post, but today I want to focus on how you as a leader can use positive emotions to help people prepare for, recognize and even embrace change.

While there are many positive emotions, Barbara Fredrickson, a renowned Positive Psychologist has listed what she calls the Ten Core Positive Emotions. These emotions can be explored more in Barbara’s book, Positivity. For our purposes, I will list them and talk briefly about how you can apply and model them in an organizational change situation.

The Positive Emotions

Before you read on – here is the warning.  What follows isn’t for cynics and non-believers.  And for each emotion that follows, you may be able to think of a change or situation where what I am suggesting won’t work.  Looking for reasons to not use this information will leave you with the rate of change success you already have.  If you are happy with that, you have no reason to read on anyway.

The point, the challenge and the opportunity is to look for ways you can use these emotions as an individual, creating more effective change, better relationships, less stress and much more.

Joy. Help people see the big picture of the change – the purpose for it.  Often people are unhappy with the specifics or the work required of them at the outset of the change.  But when people see, understand and believe in the “big why” for the change, joy can truly become a shared emotion.

Gratitude. Often times in the short term, changes look catastrophic and chaotic, but when viewed later with the perspective of time, the change was a positive. Remind people of those experiences.  Get them thinking about how things will look later and it will be easier to feel gratitude.

Serenity. The serenity prayer is the key concept here.  Serenity comes when you know are able to accept change and take responsibility for the part that is yours.  Help people see where they can make a difference and what is outside of their control – and recognize both.

Interest. While the status quo is a powerful thing, when we discover something new we feel a sense of possibility. When you help people get interested in some component of, or outcome of the change; when you spur curiosity, you create the powerful emotion of interest.

Hope. Hope comes into play when circumstances look bleak and things aren’t going well for us. We have all been in those situations and probably felt it in the midst of an organizational change, yet hope is the belief that things can, and will, improve. Show your hope.  Help people see past today and you will be stimulating this emotion.

Pride. Pride grows when we have invested our time and effort in something that matters or makes a difference and succeeded.  Pride in the right amounts can drive great performance.  How can you help people see pride in the current work and in the results of the change they are in the midst of?

Amusement. Amusement is a social emotion that not only makes us laugh, but drives us to share the source and positive emotion with others. Shared laughter can break stress, shift thinking and put challenges in the proper perspective.  How can you make the serious work of change less serious?

Inspiration. There are opportunities to find inspiration everywhere when we look.  The very best leaders see these examples, share these examples and help others become inspired too.  Look for, and help others around you see true human excellence and examples of actions that will make a difference.  The best part of inspiration is that it pulls us out of ourselves and our situation, and urges us to improve ourselves from the inspiring situation or example.

Awe. Awe is closely related to inspiration. When we help people see the grand vision for a change – how it will positively impact themselves, the organization, the customer or the world at large – we help people see the change as being a part of something noble or larger than ourselves.

Love. Love and leadership definitely go together.  I’ve written about it before, (here is one example) and it isn’t a mistake that I included it on this list.  Help people love their work, their mission, their purpose and each other.  These feelings will help people move through the challenges and uncertainty of change more than any other single thing.

My comments here have been necessarily brief.  My intention has been to not exhaust the ways you can think about and use these emotions, but rather to spur you to apply them in your own way to your own situations.  It might not be easy, but it will be worthwhile.

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photo credit: Ant1_G via photopin cc

Post originally appeared at Leadership & Learning

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