Our recent blogs have been about the need for businesses and organisations to adapt to the impact of change within the workplace. This has been brought about by the interruption of the relationship between workers, the workplace and workplace culture as a result of COVID.
When we are creating change, either as social marketers, content creators, innovators or executives, we often operate on the assumption that the best way to convince others to embrace the changes we are proposing is to heighten its appeal. It is the belief that if we add enough value, people will eventually say yes.
However, our fuel-based mindset often causes unintended friction for the intended recipients of the change, resulting in their rejecting or ignoring the new idea. As business owners, we may have developed new products to benefit our clients and customers. Yet despite our best efforts the new products have yet to sell, or we have been left with items in stock we cannot move. As marketers, we have developed a new idea or concept that we believe will engage the market segment we are in, only for our idea to fall flat and be ignored.
We have added value to our ideas and amplified the benefits and the advantages our idea will bring, and we are still met with a lack of interest, apathy, or outright rejection of the change.
Because we have not addressed the friction we all have to new ideas.
Friction is the psychological force that opposes and resists change . Concept psychologists refer to this friction as ‘status quo bias’ . It is the hardwiring in all of us to protect what is familiar and what we know.
As executives, marketers, influencers, creators, and innovators, we assume we are rational in our thinking. Because we perceive ourselves as rational, we believe our clients and customers are also rational. Therefore, because we are rational and can see the benefits of the new and our clients are also rational, they will also see the benefits. All we need to do is convince them of the rationality and benefit of the new idea, for them to accept it.
However, neither we nor our customers are totally rational.
This assumption that we are all rational often leads to the friction we all experience to change being ignored when trying to sell new ideas, concepts, or products.
Nordgren and Schonthal, in their book, talk about these four headwinds.
The headwinds being:
This is the powerful desire we all have to stay with what we know, even if we acknowledge problems and difficulties with how we are doing things. As mentioned above, this is our ‘status quo bias’.
One of the significant non-health impacts of COVID was how it forced us out of our inertia. It was a “forcing function”, pushing us to respond quickly to changing situations and adapt our actions. Now that we are learning to live with COVID and the immediate emergency is over, people’s “status quo bias” will likely re-emerge with greater force. People are likely to be more resistant to change, particularly when their surge capacity, as discussed in the previous article on change, has been exhausted.
To overcome this inertia, we must discuss innovation as a potential opportunity lost. The reason for this is that we feel loss's pain more acutely than gain's pleasure. This is the concept of “loss aversion” . For example, in a corporate context, trying to convince a team to expand into a new area or develop a new product based on reputational enhancement (the positive) doesn’t usually have much appeal. However, presenting the same idea from the perspective that by not doing this, the team or the business misses an opportunity to appear forward-thinking and innovative is more likely to succeed .
This is the energy, either real or perceived, required to make change happen. Getting people to change means they must exert power and act. For most people, it is easier to say “no” than to exert energy.
To encourage people to take action to change, another psychological concept known as the endowment effect must be considered. The endowment effect allows people to experience the benefit of whatever change you are seeking to implement before they commit to it. People place greater value on something once it is in their possessions. If people are resistant to the change one way to reduce the resistance is to allow people to try, own or use the product, so they experience the benefits.
Nordgren gives the following example of the endowment effect involving coffee mugs. In one scenario, people were presented with a coffee mug and asked how much they would be willing to pay for it; in another scenario, they were given the mug and asked how much they would sell it for. On average, people offered to sell the mug for much more than they were willing to pay for it. The simple fact of the mug becoming theirs boosted its value.
Although we concentrate on the positive results of the change we are proposing, we often do not factor in the unintended negative emotions generated in people by the change we are trying to bring in.
We all experience fear and worry around change such as what will this really mean for me? Can I manage the change that is being proposed, or will I be shown up as not able to make the necessary adjustments? These emotions cause friction and resistance to change.
Empathy and understanding are crucial when dealing with emotions because people do not always understand why they feel the way they do. Even if they understand their feelings often, they struggle to articulate them. For example, we may know we are happy or sad but still struggle to articulate why .
We all have an aversion to being changed by others. An example of this aversion was the requirement to wear masks during COVID. While many people were compliant with the requirement, others resisted because they felt it was an action being forced on them by the government.
When bringing in change, we may try to overcome this aversion or reactance by providing more information or more data. However, more information or data rarely changes the individuals or their behaviour. Usually, the more information that is provided, the more resistant the person is to the change.
One of the ways to deal with this resistance is to ask ‘yes’ questions. An example of this reactance and asking ‘yes’ questions is from the Korean War when some American POWs defected to North Korea. The belief was these soldiers had been brainwashed because why would anyone in their right mind defect?
When the POWs were returned to the United States and debriefed, what was found was that their defection started when they were asked ‘yes’ questions. The way these conversations with POWs typically started was by somebody on the North Korean side asking the following question: “Would you agree that no country or government is perfect?” This was a yes question because any normal, logical human would say, “Sure. I agree that no government or country is perfect.” Then the follow-up question is, “If that’s the case, then you’re also suggesting that your government is imperfect,” which is another yes question .
Without attempting to brainwash or manipulate a person, it is by asking ‘yes’ questions, that we can overcome the friction of reactance.
Change is never simply about selling the benefits of an idea, marketing concept, or business improvement. We need to understand how friction towards our ideas and innovations can result in drag that ultimately means staff, customers, and clients ignore the great ideas we believe will benefit them.
We need to think through how to reduce friction so that the new ideas and concepts we have developed have the best chance of success.