Resisting Change

Change doesn't come easy. But if you want it, you must uncover your conflicting commitments and understand the strength of our immunity to change

November 06, 2015
Stop resisting change to move your company forward.

They say that the great thing about being the owner of a small company is that each day is different. We like this adrenaline-junkie lifestyle and fully embrace the possibility that the end of the day will look nothing like the start.

Yet change still doesn’t come easy. The more I think about it, the more I am struck by how much effort we put into fighting against that which we so obviously can do something about. We resist difficult conversations at the outset of a project. Clients resist the start of construction and the relentlessness of the process. Trades wish away problematic details in plan, only to find them front and center during finish. Neighbors try to pretend our project doesn’t exist. We sometimes even resist celebrating a completed job out of fear or sadness at moving on. How funny we humans are.

In their book Immunity to Change, Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey tell us that we actually build up a resistance to change. Just like physical immunity protects our bodies from harm, our mental immunity protects our anxiety, fear, and deep-seated commitments. But for people like you and me, this doesn’t make much sense. We live a lifestyle that is solely about facing fear and anxiety—but it turns out we are only protecting what really matters to us.

For example, you may want to grow your business, build your team, and create a way for projects to run without you. Simple, right? Just hire a few people, stay out of the fray, and put a good software accounting system in place. Yet you continue to find yourself on the jobsite talking to trades and micromanaging your PM. Is it possible that you don’t really want to let go? Because as committed as you are to growing your business, you are equally committed to being important, having control, and being of value. You hold team meetings, but you don’t let anyone else do the talking. You tell clients to rely on their PM, but you send the email at all critical junctures. You believe in your team, but you haven’t taken a day off in more than two years. You are stepping on the gas and stepping on the brake at the same time.

Step on the Gas

Kegan and Laskow Lahey stress the importance of self-awareness and reframing. Within each of us is a deep and meaningful reason for why we behave the way we do. No one wakes up in the morning thinking “I’m going to mess everything up today.” Instead, each of us strives to engage with the world doing the best we possibly can at protecting ourselves from what we worry about the most, which may be things like losing control, not mattering, or appearing weak. In fact, we are really quite good at this self-protection. We react with what we know about our circumstances, what feels safest, what we expect for happiness, and what has been modeled to us over the course of our lifetime. Indeed, there is no good or bad behavior; there is just “us” behavior, me being me and you being you. But if we want change, we need to uncover our conflicting commitments. We need to understand the strength of our immunity to change.

I like the metaphor of stepping on the gas and on the brake at the same time: the engine revving mightily against the resistance of the brake, digging in, and so fully … not … moving. Like that engine, our inability to change is not for lack of energy. In fact, resistance itself is energy. Fear is a constant current of juice ready to ignite if it gets too heated. Our internal conflict, our stress, tells us that we’re dedicated to our conflicting commitments.

When you find yourself here, just imagine the power behind gently and lovingly raising your left foot. PR

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Allison Iantosca is a partner at F.H. Perry Builder, a 35-year-old company listed as one of the Top 100 Women Led Businesses in Massachusetts for three years in a row. aiantosca@fhperry.com

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