When Faced with Dissonance, Are You a Changer or an Ego-Protector?

Inherent in every successful change effort is a significant motivating event that challenges the status quo (or at least the perceptions of the status quo).  When an individual or organization is presented with data suggesting that the current state (or reality) is far removed from the optimal reality, tension or dissonance is created. Two opposing thoughts occur simultaneously (I/we are here, but need to get there), causing discomfort, which any human system will try desperately to resolve.
The individual or organization faced with contradictory thoughts has a choice to either change their beliefs about the current situation, or change their behaviors. The natural response of individuals and groups is to change attitudes and beliefs or to self-justify the current state.  After all, changing beliefs or attitudes (“I don’t really want to run a marathon anyway”) is simpler than changing behaviors (“I’m going to get up every morning at 5am and run 8 miles.”).  In order for change to occur, however, there must be a decision to change core actions or behaviors that close the gap between the current state and the end goal. Without this discomfort, the motivation for change will be missing.
We use the acronym “DRIVE” — Dissonance, Reach, Immediate Steps, Validation, and Environment— as a framework or checklist for change.  Although many change initiatives would start with a goal or desired state, the reality is that unless DISSONANCE is present, there is no reason to make change occur.  Similar to the physics concept of Newton’s first law, “an item at rest will remain at rest unless acted upon by an unbalanced force,” unless an impetus for change exists, it is highly unlikely it will occur.  When it does occur without this clear dissonance factor, the change is generally not lasting.
In a recent coaching session, I shared the results of 360-degree feedback information with an experienced leader who was told that his approach to leading his team was not working.   He was shocked to learn that his “results at any cost” leadership style did not have the impact that he intended. Dissonance occurred when viewing his own self-perceptions against those who gave him the negative feedback. He had a choice to make: either justify his actions, or make changes. Unfortunately, he chose the easiest and quickest method, and attributed his rater’s lack of understanding of his role to the negative perceptions.  Change did not occur because the dissonance was not used to create behavioral change.
In order for change to occur, there must be a decision to change core actions or behaviors that close the gap between the current state and the end goal. Without dissonance, the motivation (or reason) for change will be missing.
NOTE: Each week we feature a different component of the DRIVE change framework.  We will feature “REACH” in our next Leadership Intelligence blog, which involves identifying the goal or objective, and assessing the reality of attaining that goal.

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