In my last post I went on about how difficult if not impossible it is to get people to change. But people can and do change so in this post I want to look what it is that makes people change and how we as managers can bring about the right conditions to encourage positive change to take place.
I have been reading a lot recently about emotional intelligence and leadership skills (especially Dr. Richard Boyatzis). And as a natural extension to this about how to create the right conditions for positive change to take place. Neurological and behavioural research carried out in this field has shown that people don’t change because people tell them to change or because they think they ought to change, people change when the following series of conditions are present:
Feeling good about yourself
According to the theories of emotional intelligence we are only in the right mind-set to consider change when we are feeling good about ourselves. When we feel good about ourselves, we relax and open ourselves up to options and new ideas. In this state the possibility of change is seen as a good thing.
However, most of the time change is proposed when somebody tells us (or at least insinuates) that we didn’t do something very well. This happens all too often in our context during observations and appraisals. The result is the person on the receiving end of the appraisal naturally goes into defensive mode in which they immediately and naturally block out options of change. They tend to tense up and move into a state in which the acceptance of the need for change is virtually impossible. So, in this state, even if the person says they recognise the need to change, this recognition tends to be on a very superficial level and means that significant and lasting change is highly unlikely to happen.
The ideal self
The second important point is that people only change when they aspire to things they really want to do, when they respond to their personal agendas or to things that form part of their ideal self. This is opposed to things that they think they ought to do or things that they are told they should do, often known as our “ought self”. So even though we can recognise that there are things that we could do with improving, unless they form part of our ideal self, it is unlikely that we will ever get enough motivation to get round to working on them.
The real self
However, in order to map a pathway to our ideal self we need to first take stock of our “real self”. This is particularly difficult because it is very difficult for anybody to have an objective view of who we really are in terms of our strengths and weaknesses and how we come across to others. How we see ourselves is not necessarily how other people see us but unless we form a realistic picture of the effect we have on other people, it will be difficult for us to change in significant ways.
According to research women tend to underestimate their strengths and men overestimate themselves. Either way, we don’t tend to see ourselves in a truly realistic light. However, if we have access to a supportive group of colleagues, friends and family who can help us to see ourselves for who we are, this can make a significant difference.
Formulating a plan
Once a person has a vision of who they want to be and who they are now, they can select a specific aspect of their ideal self and plan how they are going to try to work on that aspect. The development and success of this plan depends very much on the person involved coming up with a plan which is appealing and practical. It has to work around their personal requirements and context in terms of time, expense, commitment, planning and learning styles.
Once the plan is under way, a very important part of change involves experimenting with these new skills in a safe environment. People need to be able to experiment freely and receive non-threatening feedback so that they can fine-tune and generally work out what works and what doesn’t.
And of course practice makes perfect. Whatever skill or area of expertise we try to develop, we will need to practise and practise again until it becomes second nature constantly reflecting on how well we are doing and adapting according to what we learn.
So, from my perspective, the challenge for LTO managers is to create the right environment in which positive change can blossom. This is an environment where people have fun, where people feel optimistic, where people feel that people care about each other and in which people are mindful. If we can create this environment, then we need to try to channel the energy for change into something which will benefit not only the individual but also the language teaching organisation.