Surviving change without going ape

How many times have we left for work, fully intending to play the part of the ever-composed, quietly observant, always benevolent Jane Goodhall, only to find ourselves at the end of the day, flinging feces at our teammates in a primitive display of dominance and one-upmanship?

“You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”― Jane Goodall

We can rest assured we are in good company.  Half of the business books, TED talks, Linkedin posts and podcasts out there are simply various means of giving us tools to prevent our inner ape from coming out and embarrassing us or our organization.  This tendency to slip into our most basic, fight or flight self is never more likely to rear its head and pound its chest than during times of intense change.  The question is what do we do about it?  We have extensive methodologies for managing change in the workplace.  We have entire professions that are devoted to it.  Yet, how many of us truly make an investment in it?  I don’t mean a monetary investment necessarily, although as an HR professional and consultant, you won’t ever see me discouraging that!  My question is, how many of us invest our personal, emotional and spiritual time in managing change?

The answer is we all make an investment, whether it is deliberate or not.  While undergoing change, we are all hijacked into depositing huge sums of cash into the emotional bank, against our will.  Change, whether it is at home, or work or church, activates all of our most basic survival instincts. Although some of us may drive fancy cars and wear fancy shoes, we still live with a brain that sees saber tooth tigers with every organizational or management change.  We still feel the thunder of a herd of elephants coming at us with each process improvement.  Our brains see someone coming at us with a primitive stone-tipped spear as each workplace rival enters the scene.

If we are even one-tenth as observant as Ms. Goodall, we can see that, in a period of change, all of our stress behaviors come out.  Depending on our personality type, we may withdraw.  We may find ourselves getting short with our co-workers.  We may find new levels of snark and sarcasm to dish out to each other.  We may raise our voices or worse.  None of this behavior is productive.  These senseless displays are neither helpful for us personally nor our organizations. At the end of the day, it bleeds money faster from the bottom line and disengages more people than any of us can afford in the competitive jungles we find ourselves in.

Let’s save ourselves and our organizations by investing intentionally in managing change.  We already know the strategies: we can watch a TED talk, read a book, listen to a podcast, hire a coach or consultant, find a new spiritual center, use our vacation time to get our cars washed and/or simply take a walk.  When we find ourselves getting snarky in a meeting, ripping someone’s presentation to shreds or throwing down our tools, phones or pens in a fit of frustration, let’s stop, and give ourselves a time-out.  Let’s sit under the trees and pick lice out of our co-worker’s coats…(sorry, my analogies tend to get away from me sometimes!) Of course, I don’t mean that literally, but that kind of grooming behavior is exactly how primates form bonds!

When we find ourselves lost in the jungle of change, let’s take the time to acknowledge what we are all going through, let’s apologize to each other and build trust.  Instead of puffing up, let’s have a beer with our rivals.  We can always choose to spend time talking to our manager about her kid, instead of the big changes coming down the pike.  In short, we need to find our mutual humanity.  We must uncover ways to show others that we are in this together.  If we don’t collectively overcome our instincts, we may each find our world has much more feces in it than we can dodge on our own.


Photo by KIMO on Unsplash


2 thoughts on “Surviving change without going ape

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  1. I understand where a lot this comes from John. One thing I’ve learned as a leader is that when people typically say something is stupid right off the bat means a few things. One being you are on to something not thought of before or successfully completed before. Two they just don’t understand so their mind closes off and they say it’s stupid so they don’t have to spend anymore time thinking about it. I find this one a lot while working with Youth and younger adults. Lastly, you are crazy and you should listen to the advice of your experts but experts typically are the one who will cheer you on and guide you because they were once the same person.

    Change falls in to the “stupid” category a lot. Especially the farther down the organizational chart you are from the decision.

    Liked by 1 person

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