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Supporting change: combining reason and emotion

Below is an interview with Cécil Schmitt, Chairman and Founder of Here & Next, published -in French- on the website of MicroMégas, our partner on coaching activities.

Any transformation project comes up against resistance that can sometimes unleash passions. Balancing the rational and emotional appeal of individuals and teams is therefore a major challenge for executives and managers.

Do we necessarily have to make a choice between reason and emotion? Below is the view of Cécil Schmitt, professional coach and partner of MicroMégas.

Building the walls of reason, opening the door to emotion...

"In a transformation project, you have to appeal to both reason and emotion at once" Cécil Schmitt explains. Reasoning allows you to make informed decisions. "It provides the framework. And this framework itself makes it possible to build the walls of the project, the team and the roles, and later to measure the progress and the results of the transformation project. In the end, like the traditional 12 blows in the theatre, it gives a go", he explains. And reason is so key to establishing a clear, structured action plan that its importance seldom has to be reminded...

What is less natural, however, is allowing emotions to be part of this framework. "It's rarely an automatic move. Few people dare to express how they feel in the workplace. Many people of my generation are still convinced that they have to remain still and strong, even in the most difficult situations", Cécil stresses. And yet emotions are a major influencing factor in the way one reacts to change, and that affects individual and collective motivation and commitment. "Being able to put words one these emotions is the best way for managers and companies to respond appropriately," he points out.

… and pull the appropriate string

When convinced that it makes sense to leave some room for emotions, how to proceed ? "The most important thing with emotions in a transformation project is to acknowledge their presence" Cécil Schmitt explains. Only then can you try out different ways of unlocking them from being repressed. "In my practice, I namely use the body to let emotions emerge and resonate: indeed motion releases energy. Theatre is particularly interesting in this respect, because it offers drills that make you to become aware of the importance of your own feelings, and then to express them", the coach -and amateur stage-comedian- explains.

However, while pleasant emotions (joy, curiosity, enthusiasm, etc.) are accepted nowadays, unpleasant emotions (too often called "negative") are not welcome. "When you put words on an unpleasant emotion, it becomes an object from which you can step back, rather than you remaining its subject and being overwhelmed by it".

Unpleasant emotions

To "welcome emotions" means to acknowledge them, even the unpleasant ones. There may be a long list of them, but the ones that come first are :

1/ Fear : within change management projects, fear of the unknown is very much present. Fear finds its source in the idea of one's role and seat in project and thereafter" C’est d’ailleurs rarement le projet en tant que tel qui fait peur, mais plutôt sa propre place et de son rôle dans ce projet », Cécil Schmitt explains

2/ Anger : loss of control, cultural change, bad communication - they all generate confusion. "Anger often is fear or misunderstanding that was not acknowledged properly by the organization", he observes.

3/ Discouragement « It results from from the conjunction of one's feelings, the story she tells herself on the change project and where she sits in the whole picture", he adds. Mistrust (in the organization / top management) can easily lead to a harmful fatalism.

If repressed or turned down, these emotions can turn into even more harmful behaviours called psychologic games, (as originally called by Eric Berne, father of Transactional Analysis). Individuals can get stuck within the scheme of the Drama (or Karpman Drama) Triangle : Persecutor, Victim, Rescuer. The dynamics goes like this : a "victim" feels powerless and complains about her situation. She can do so to a "rescuer", who will try to minimize the effects of the change, or maintain the status quo. The "persecutor" will criticize the change or the way it is implemented, and will exert her power over the situation (which can be done by an original rescuer who sees the context does not turn in his favour...)

Avoiding the above is a clear benefit of expression one's feelings and emotions. "Understand the unpleasant emotions and the related attitudes helps in decoding how people can react around the table, and in finding ways for the team to go over these difficulties, namely by becoming proactive in the change process", the coach explains.

Bring Emotional Intelligence forward

Ackowledge emotions as they arise is undoubtedly beneficial. Putting them in the front seat can transform the ride, through the identification of the ones that hinder change. "Anybody can resist to changing habits, because of the fear of failure. One first step is awareness." the coach suggests.

What he mentions is in line with what Dr. Robert Kegan and Dr. Lisa Lahey depict as "Immunity to Change". They found out that all have a psychological "immune system", designed to protect ourselves from any danger to our identity. It is very much entrenched in our psyche since it depends on our own development as adults, which means who we are, how we see the world around us and our action in it. The related work can be a slow-pace one, because it is not about fixing anything but rather about supporting individuals' development, the kind of things that no magic spell, but only life itself, can do.

For Cécil Schmitt, rituals can create the opportunity to acknowledge the expression - and listening- of emotions. As a framework for doing so, the discipline on rituals has to be strictly exerted (frequency, protocol...). "This is a genuine accountability for the managers to organize the expression and processing of this Emotional Intelligence within their teams, and to practice their facilitation, aside of their personal agenda".

Working on the articulation between reason and emotions is the key for Cécil: "As a professional coach, I do not aim at changing behaviours on a superficial level. It is rather a way for me to support individuals in working on the levers of these behaviours that they do not want anymore, so that the latter can evolve and result in a greater alignment", he explains.

Finally, when asked "Can you lead a transformation by focusing only on reason", the coach's answer is clear: "You bet you can... but you'd better hang in there ! And I could bet that in the mid/long term, it won't get you in a globally satisfactory situation."

Do you share Cécil's vision ? Then let's put reason and emotion together to support your transformation projects.

Interview by Marlène Moreira - Welcome to The Jungle

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