Updated: Sep 23, 2021
So here it is, finally, the long awaited blog after long hiatus. The first of the year and of many to come each month, I hope. I hope because it has not been an easy one to write. I had an idea in my mind to write about change in organisations and specifically, how individuals react to it. A big part of my career has been focused on managing change and I have seen how people respond to change in their working environment. I am also training as a Jungian Analyst and starting to see the workplace from a psychoanalytic / analytical psychology perspective. I am now at a place in my training where I can give my own insights from a Jungian perspective, share my experiences and offer ideas for the future. There is a lot of insight and narrative in my head but trying to focus it for an audience unfamiliar with analytical psychology is a massive challenge for me. So I procrastinate. I promised myself that I would write my blog before the end of December last year. That did not happen. I was in Washington DC on a course and to visit family. Life simply got in the way, I found every excuse not to sit down and gather my thoughts and then the guilt sets in. There is no way to counteract it but to sit down and write it down spontaneously. Just let the thoughts flow out! So here it is, fresh from my spontaneous self and I hope you find it interesting. I aim to give my own psychological view of the workplace, good and bad. These are my own views spanning experiences from throughout my career.
Procrastination > Resistance
Resistance can be defined as “the refusal to accept or comply with something” or in context of an individual experiencing change at work "they displayed a narrow-minded resistance to change". My procrastination over the last couple of months is a form of resistance to change but the difference is that it is an inward resistance. There is a part of me that wants to write an interesting and insightful blog and there is another part of me that wants to just head out to a bar and have some fun. The emphasis is on an inward resistance. But resistance can also be exhibited in an outward direction and the focus of this blog. There are many ways to describe how a person responds to change in a work environment. The scale of change can be minimal, incremental or transformational, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is how does the person respond?
The typical behaviours are scepticism usually accompanied by broad statements such as ”it will never work” “we’ve seen it all before”. Enthusiasm with comments like “this will be good for us” “it will make things so much easier” and relief at something being done to fix a problem. Hostility usually means there is something about the change that is not being well received and usually accompanied by negative or trickster comments conjured up to bring the project to an end. Excitement the possibilities are endless, a commitment to be part of the solution, a personal value system is activated by the change. Lethargy a state of unresponsiveness to the change, there is no energy apparent and you are never quite sure how this person feels or thinks about the change. And then there this is the Personal response, the person who takes the change very personally and the one response organisations do not address directly. There are stakeholder engagement strategies and plans to deal with any kind of response but the personal. However, in my view the personal response is unquantifiable and typically hides behind a curtain of scepticism, enthusiasm, hostility, excitement and lethargy. And sometimes it is just that, personal and it makes itself known to all and sundry. The focus of this blog is on the extreme end of the personal response.
The Personal Response
If you work in change, you will have experienced the personal response at some point in your career. A person takes a change so seriously and personally, that they cannot discern between the organisational need or imperative for change vis a vis the person implementing the change also known as the Change Enabler. Suddenly, the Change Enabler becomes the one and only source of the person’s frustrations, anger, sadness and ultimately resistance to change. So why does a person take such an extreme and personal standpoint. For me the behaviours offer a clue: an unwillingness to be involved in the change process, endless and covert complaints to figures of authority, withholding information, not responding to requests for information, discrediting the Change Enabler but never quite able to reach out to the Change Enabler implementing the change, to enter a dialogue with them and to battle out their differences with the aim of reaching a consensus or at least influence the outcome of the change. What exactly is going through the mind of the person with the personal response? Why is he or she resistant to change? There are many reasons and this isn’t a blog to unpick the myriad of reasons why. But from a psychoanalytic viewpoint, I can offer another clue. The figure of the change i.e. the Change Enabler.
The Personal Response as a form of Transference
Transference is a term used to describe the projection of infantile material upon the analyst or psychotherapist and also generally to encompass the whole analytic situation. The classic use of the term transference means “the redirection of feelings and desires and especially of those unconsciously retained from childhood toward a new object”. The change, especially when potentially transformative, triggers a person’s unresolved feelings, desires, dislikes etc and which are projected on to the Change Enabler. The person becomes neurotic, irrational, unreasonable and unable to develop a rapport with the Change Enabler. As far as they are concerned the Change Enabler is wrong, creating unnecessary change, should not be listened to and is simply just a pain in the ass. The Change Enabler exacerbates the situation if they are not aware of these unconscious dynamics between him/herself and the person resisting the change. Being psychologically aware, at least, you can start to view the situation from a different vantage point i.e. the psychological one.
The content of the person’s transference includes aspects of the person’s relationships to figures from the past e.g. parents and siblings which he or she projects to the Change Enabler and also his or her individual potential and shadow. The most direct and clear-cut definition of the shadow is “the thing a person has no wish to be”. In this simple statement lies the many definitions of the shadow, the negative side of the personality, the sum of all the unpleasant qualities one wants to hide, the inferior, worthless side of human nature, the aspects of one self we don’t like and which we project on to others, the “other person” in one, one’s own dark side. The personal response can be extreme. The shadow’s contents are powerful, and marked by affect; aggressive, autonomous, difficult, startling and even overwhelming. The shadow manifests as an irrational projection, positive or negative, upon one’s neighbour. The only way to break the hold of the shadow on the person and for them to make sense of the transference is to look inward.
Looking inward is an important step in the rehabilitation of a person’s transference and shadow i.e. the personal response. Change is a given. It will happen whether we like it or not. There is a lot in the saying to “ride the waves of change, or drown in the choppy waters”. What we lack in many organisations, is the acknowledgement of this well-known psychological fact and to put in place measures to help employees overcome their personal responses to change, especially when the resistance becomes personal. We spend a lot of time placating their feelings and not finding the confidence to say, “accept the change”. And it doesn’t surprise me that organisations cannot address personal responses. The transference and shadow are part of an employee’s personal unconscious, how do you influence this deeply personal place?
The Great Individual and Change
The Great Individual is essentially a great personality characterised by the fact that the unconscious (transference, shadow) has him or her in its grip but also by the fact that his or her conscious mind also has an active grip on the unconscious content. The person takes a responsible stance in coming to terms with and, being aware of, the content and having an ability to take up an attitude towards it. The person then becomes the Great Individual, a creative person who is no longer invaded by unconscious material and they become a hero, or heroine, an exemplar of a process which the person takes upon him or herself all the complications and sufferings brought about by change. The person reverses the outward energy of their resistance, the energy goes inward and with a reflective ego, the person begins to examine the material he or she has projected to the Change Enabler. In doing so, he or she reverses the projection on the Change Enabler and activates their own capacities for self-awareness and development. This leads to a form of meditation in which a creative stance emerges, a stance which counteracts the effects of change. The person is less interested in the impact of the change on their person, but sees how the change transforms their personality and ultimately destiny. I have often seen individuals resist change on a very personal level, never accepting the need for the organisation to change, ultimately leaving the organisation and finding their true calling, a better opportunity, a change in direction in their life. I’ve met many of them, years later, the resistance has evaporated and they tell me “I am glad for the experience, in a way, it was good for me, I went on to do something different, I am much happier, I cannot imagine being in the same job, after all this time”. But many never reach this vantage point, continue to remain in the same job after many years, resistant to change. The organisation suffers for it, the customers suffer for it and there is a slow decline. FTSE 100 companies have a life span of 50 to 100 years. Personal transformation is a life-long task, who knows what impact this can have on an organisation?
You might be curious about the image of Perseus and the Gorgon Head above? Perseus is a metaphor for the Great Individual. The Great Individual who battles his own transference and shadow (represented by the Gorgon Head) and is ultimately triumphant. The Gorgon is a metaphor for the Change Enabler in the mind of the person resisting change but the Gorgon becomes an aspect of person resisting change, if the person resisting change becomes aware of their transference on the Change Enabler.
As I train to become a Jungian Analyst, I am very interested in exploring how I can use analytical psychology tools and techniques to facilitate change in organisations, disarm personal responses and offer instead a route to inner transformation which leads to good organisational health. Health and wellbeing in organisations remains a new area. Mental health of employees during periods of transformation change is far better than the bureaucratic and often pointless formal consultative processes required by employment legislation. Employment legislation does not deal with mental health issues and in my experience, this is one of the most important areas to consider ahead of any big change programme.