Cognitive neuroscience gives some very useful insights into how change affects us
How the brain responds to change …..
Change is a pain. Creating new neural pathways is literally painful for us in the same way hitting our thumb with a hammer is painful.
Change is tiring. Learning new tasks or behaviours tires us out. Learning takes significant energy and time. You might remember back to when you first started in your current job and how tired you were in the first week.
Change cuts us off from people. Change can make us feel excluded from social relationships which in turn can trigger anxiety. A restructure at work can mean that we lose social relationships and need to build new ones which requires time and effort.
4 ways leaders can implement change more effectively
You know already know these but just in case…
1. Give people a say in what’s going on
Having a say in the change process means people are more likely to engage in the change process instead of resisting it.
Change that is externally imposed is resisted. The brain aims to keep the status quo against externally imposed change. However when we choose to change, the brain is less resistant and considers this the new status quo.
2. Help people hear your message
The research suggests that to change, we need to access our prefrontal cortex so that we can identify and take on key tasks. We can’t access or use the prefrontal cortex easily if there are too may demands on it. 3-4 seems to be the requisite number but change strategies often include many more than 3-4 activities to keep track of and this is in addition to our usual daily activities!
Having an understanding of the overall change strategy reduces the need for people to hold too many ideas in working memory. This means they can pay attention to what you are saying about the change.
3. Recognise the emotions of change
Positive demonstrations of emotion – as simple as a smile from a colleague – can help people access more working memory, process information and support problem solving during change.
Positive demonstration of emotion can also help people access the prefrontal cortex which assists with emotional regulation and supports engagement.
4. Treat people with compassion
A simple question like “how do you feel about this change” by a colleague or manager helps people understand and manage their emotional state during change.
Places to read more
Ringleb, Rock and Conser: 2010 Neuroleadership Journal
Siegel and Pearce-McCall: 2009 Neuroleadership Journal