The status quo is the existing routine, the comfort zone. Change necessarily causes people to step out of their comfort zones, to learn something that was previously outside of their awareness, or to do something different that may seem unnatural or risky, or to go somewhere that is not well defined.
Discomfort is necessary for change. People first need to be uncomfortable with the current situation to have the energy to do something different. And if people are too comfortable with the change, it’s probably not making a real difference.
Discomfort with change also shows up as resistance and can hinder progress. Too much discomfort may even be paralyzing.
In order to influence change, we need to both cause enough discomfort that change actually happens, while we simultaneously alleviate the discomfort we cause when we make people step into new territory. Here are some examples:
|Cause Discomfort||Alleviate Discomfort|
|Create a sense of urgency. What we do now will not get us to where we want to go.||Share a clear vision that fosters hope and inspires people forward.|
|Elicit behavior that goes against what is currently accepted/molded by peer pressure.||Dismantle peer pressure. Develop supportive peer behaviors that reward and don’t work against the one you’re trying to encourage.|
|Cause uncertainty about the future by disrupting normal routines and changing the definition of success.||Communicate as much as possible. Build trust and demonstrate that people will be supported throughout the change.|
|Hold up a mirror so people see and acknowledge that which is holding them back.||Provide feedback out of curiosity, not judgment. Remove external obstacles to improvement.|
|Increase the level of candor and conflict so previously hidden issues are properly dealt with.||Develop an environment where people can speak freely without retribution or denial. Facilitate constructive conflict.|
In this act of both causing and alleviating discomfort to influence change, you’re not really aiming for balance or trying to eliminate discomfort. Instead, you’re trying to help people be comfortable with the discomfort whenever you’re causing it.
I’d love to hear your examples of both causing and alleviating discomfort to influence change. Please share in the comments.