Change initiatives, and their generally bigger cousins “change programmes”, almost always involve fear, obligation, guilt and shame. And start from a position of coercive violence.
Here’s a typical posture I’ve seen time and again in the context of organisational change both large and small:
“The company needs to make some changes to become more profitable. We judge you, you and you to be of the right stuff for this assignment. You will work on this change effort. Here’s a list of the changes we want to see. And here’s how we insist you should go about these changes. Do things our way and you’ll be ‘right’. Anything else and you’ll be ‘wrong’. If things go well you can hope for some minor level of gratitude and/or recognition. But woe betide things going badly (veiled threats or implicit allusions to the effect that you could be punished or fired in such circumstances). Actually, however things turn out, we’ll classify you all into various shades of right or wrong. Oh, and we also insist that you feel obliged to look happy and motivated whilst doing this.”
“In Jackal culture, feelings and wants are severely punished. People are expected to be docile, subservient to authority; slave-like in their reactions, and alienated from their feelings and needs.
“In Jackal, we expect other people to prove their loyalty to us by doing what we want.”
~ Marshall Rosenberg
What’s Wrong With this Picture?
This posture inevitably provokes defensiveness, resistance, and counterattack. We often call this a “passive aggressive” response. Although outright aggression is possible, too. This posture impacts the morale and (initial) goodwill of the people chosen. It robs involvement and motivation, and induces a state of fear, insecurity and learned helplessness. Ultimately, it’s a key contributing factor to increasing the poor health of the organisation.
Yet it’s so much the norm that it’s beyond most folks’ imagination to even notice that there could be an alternative. Let’s take a look at just one viable alternative:
The Nonviolent Posture
“I guess you share some of our concerns about the future of the company. We have noticed X and Y and Z as signs that the company needs to make some changes to become more profitable. How do you feel about this? We feel concerned enough that we’d like to see a group come together to work on this. Who shares our view on this need (to become more profitable)? What need (purpose) would best align with your needs? What would you each need (request) to sign up to this group? If things go well we can all hope for things to be mutually more wonderful. If things don’t go so well, we’ll all see what we can do about it, at the appropriate time. Actually, however things turn out, are you willing to share in our choice to believe that everyone was doing their best?”
“How could this possibly work?”
“Isn’t this lunatic optimism run riot?”
These are questions which often follow as a common response to nonviolence in general, yet time and again nonviolent means have wrought unlikely (positive and beneficial) outcomes.
Aside: Note the general NVC framework in this posture: Empathy, observations, feelings, needs, requests.
In such a scenario as here described, a genuine posture of nonviolence offers the opportunity for everyone to have their needs met. And when folks have their needs met, they’re likely to feel engaged, hopeful, confident, excited and inspired, to name but a few of the positive emotions.
Of course, it’s a matter of personal belief as to whether such emotions are appropriate, and beneficial, in e.g. a business setting.
What do you believe? Which posture do you see as have more benefit? As having more chance of success? As more humane?
And under which posture would you flourish more? Which would best meet your needs?
I chose to characterise both of the above postures in the context of an Analytic-minded organisation. This was both to make the idea more accessible to folks with that worldview, and to illustrate that even in such organisations, it doesn’t require a wholesale shift in the organisational mindset to begin using Nonviolent Communication in e.g. change initiatives.
Just for the record though, here’s the second posture recast in the context of a Synergistic-minded organisation:
“I guess we all share some concerns about the future of our company. Some folks have mentioned X and Y and Z as signs that we need to make some changes. Changes that might incidentally also help improve e.g. profitability. How do we all feel about this? I feel concerned enough to ask whether we’d like to see a group come together specifically to work on this. Who shares our view on this need (to do something, now)? What need (purpose) would best align with each of our own needs at the moment? What would folks each need (request) to sign up to this group? If things go well we can all hope for things to be mutually more wonderful. If things don’t go so well, we’ll all see what we can do about it, at the appropriate time. Maybe it’s not necessary to remind ourselves that actually, however things turn out, we choose to believe that everyone was doing their best?”
And, in a Chaordic-minded organisation, it’s highly unlikely that this conversation would ever even be necessary, as the need for change, the enrolment of people, and the whole nine yards, would be an integral part of daily business-as-usual.