Change Whisperer – Gail Severini, Symphini Change Management Inc.


#1 change challenge. A virtuous cycle of confessions and resolutions. Part 3

“The people who trigger us to feel negative emotion are messengers.  They are messengers for the unhealed parts of our being.” Teal Swan

Collaborate Speaking Authenticity

I was speaking with a senior, experienced change practitioner, whom I have deep respect for, a couple of weeks ago and we got around to talking about what was, for me, a guilty secret:

I am often triggered by the change I am working on.  It is likely my #1 challenge.

“What does that mean?” you might say. Well, it means that I sometimes get frustrated enough that I temporarily lose my mind … I mean … I lose objectivity.

Truth is: something occurs that I start to take personally – and it’s … distracting.

In Post 1 we looked at why we do this work and in Post 2 we started to look at how.  In this post we’ll look more closely at how we navigate our own disruption.  (Here I need to insert a reminder – I share here as a practitioner trying to do better everyday – not as an expert but hopefully an expert learner.  I invite you to take whatever might resonate with you.)

Sure, we are all concerned about “delivering”, “performing” and “excelling” and we are all (likely) disrupted by change (we’ll unpack that as we go) but how strange that it sometimes distract us on such a personal level!

A scenario

Maybe an example would help here.  Let’s say that we are working on a program that is designed to increase sales.  To do this the organization is going to: free up some of the salesforce time (by consolidating or outsourcing functions); train up the salesforce; provide some new tools and processes; there might be some supporting marketing campaigns and let’s say that the organization goes so far as to declare that it will become “customer centric”.

There are a multitude of impacts here and we won’t go into all of them but there are likely:

  • Re-organizations where some will exit the organization, some will be promoted and some will take lateral positions. The leaders who have to let people go are disrupted on a personal level in many ways, employees who are let go are obviously disrupted in  myriad of ways, employee teams will miss the people who leave, some may feel guilty and/or resentful, etc.
  • Many old, strong relationships that facilitated much work will be eroded (still valued on a personal level but without that the organizational currency that they once had). That social fabric of working relationships will have to be re-built to facilitate work.
  • Training – new behaviours and capabilities
  • Culture shift – new mindsets that require us to revisit, reconcile and align on vision and beliefs
  • Everyone will be incompetent for a while (yes you read that right) while everyone learns the new processes and systems
  • Many will fail forward (ie learn by making mistakes) and this often feels very high risk (especially remembering that other employees were just let go). Candid conversations may be required to help both leaders and employees stay focused on the new priorities and ways of working
  • The velocity of work will take on a weird slow-motion-frenetic as everyone has to figure out how to get work done (there’s fumbling around and often re-work) even as the pressure builds to meet client expectations
  • Workplace stress and with, it dysfunction, rises. Even for those who view the changes as positive and important for the organization – who are truly committed to success.  This is not even about resistance – it’s about transitioning through change.

So we get all that – and we know how to help the organization minimize the stress and expedite the transitions.

Let’s park this for the moment and consider something else …

What’s happening in the project team?

So we have planned all this out.  We have researched, assessed, planned, collaborated, re-planned, trained, use-cased and re-planned this to death.  Even with that we know that we can’t predict everything and that course corrections will be required.

We even know that pressure will build up and that we’ll need to be self aware and supportive of the team.

Sounds like a piece of cake right?

And then something weird happens … 

  • Maybe a leader lashes out – it becomes clear that you have underestimated the magnitude of the impact on their team or your plan is not working
  • Maybe some people have unresolved reservations about the strategic direction or results are not going according to plan (sometime one begets the other) and they become more vocal about their concerns at inopportune times and you wonder why you didn’t see this coming, why are you are not prepared
  • Maybe some leaders are being challenged by their staff and feel inadequate with the prepared answers that you gave them
  • Maybe an employee writes an anonymous and (god forbid) public letter complaining about the changes which cause leaders and practitioners to second guess the approach (you)
  • or maybe it is a different “straw on the camel’s back”

It might not even be that obvious. In a project room a couple of years ago a colleague came back from a meeting with the Sponsor astounded by the passive aggressive behavior of a normally collaborative client who went on and on about “I can’t stand yellow.  I can’t believe anyone would wear such a colour.” My colleague, thinking that this was a joke, said laughingly “I am wearing yellow.” And the client said coldly “I know”.  Needless to say the meeting was less than productive.

What is that? Best we could figure, our client was past her adaptation capacity (see “How do People Learn to Adapt to Change” for more on this) and her behavior was momentarily off track.  What happened next was most interesting: not only did we reflect on how she responded but also our response.

We were immediately triggered – we were confused and defensive. It took a little bit of work but the practitioner got through it with the leader.  Within a day or two the team was re-geared and moving again but it was a reminder about how this work affects us all.

The resolution

So what happens when we are personally triggered by something during the change?

What does that do to the notion of “self as an instrument of change” (see Post 2)?  The best instrument is suddenly impaired.  Now what?

Well, truth is … that was not the first time and I’m sure it won’t be the last.

I have had many experiences where something occurred and I was personally disrupted. On rare occasion I have been able, in the moment, to have the presence of mind to realize that it was not necessarily only about me – I’d sure like to be able to “do” that more often.

This is the work that I will undertake for 2016.

Next up …

In the next post I’ll look at a technique for creating the space to process this properly and build the “muscle” to operate in real time.

How about you?  Do you see yourself as “an instrument of change”?  Are you ever triggered by events in a change?  How do you accommodate that?

Really appreciate your thoughts, feedback and exchange.  And if you’re getting something out of this please do share it on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Related Posts:

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Change Whisperer by www.gailseverini.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.


2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Hi Gail!
Again, such a timely blog…I’ve been exploring this issue for myself in significant depth over the last six months….some of it I believe is the normal human reaction of not wanting to be rejected. But when it seems to go deeper and “take hold of me” so that I lose my effectiveness as a consultant, I need to unpack that and look at what is driving my obsession. Am I tying it to my “worth” ? Is it triggering old messages from a trauma filled childhood? Because I believe that what I experience as a consultant, my client is also feeling…tho’ they may not often be as aware. And when I begin to better master my own triggers, I can then better consult to/coach and help my clients explore their own triggers.
Thanks again for your transparency and thoughts of stimulation!

Comment by Tricia Steege

Thank you for taking time to comment and for sharing your own experience so candidly.

The first ah ha for me is always self awareness – it’s probably 1/2 of the total “work” for me actually. Rarely have I traversed challenging change calmly and detached – I always seem to become “vested” in the success of the initiative. I used to value that as a positive thing – I increasingly find it just another sort of handicap. It inhibits me from options. And yes, trying to find the source (always ego related) sometimes gives me an epiphany – and sets me on a different journey to “overcome” or liberate myself from.

Funny, we think we are changing others … 😉

Comment by Gail Severini




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