Quality Chaos: Peacemaking – Part II

by Ron Potter

Peacemakers understand the process of change. All too often we have seen that when chaos or change happens in an organization, leaders deal with the impact on a personal level but forget to bring the whole organization along with them. In her book On Death and Dying, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross explains that “all of our patients reacted to the bad news in almost identical ways, which is typical not only of the news of fatal illness but seems to be a human reaction to great and unexpected stress.” Her findings indicate that when humans are faced with difficult information, such as unavoidable change, we all go through the same pattern of denial, anger, depression, rationalization, and, finally, acceptance.

In business situations, we find a similar pattern at work:

  1. Denial—This can’t be happening to me/us.
  2. Anger—Why is someone doing this to me/us?
  3. Depression or identity crisis—What will I/we do in the new organization? Where is my/our place?
  4. Rationalization—Yes it’s true, but it doesn’t apply to me/us for these reasons.…
  5. Acceptance or the search for solutions—How do I/we solve the problem?

While the members of a team deal with each stage a little differently and take varying amounts of time to reach acceptance, the team as a whole eventually gets through the process and is ready to search for and implement solutions. The problem is, leaders quickly forget or are not even aware of the fact that they first had to work their way through the other stages to get to this point. And so, equipped with the solution (or at least energized by the possibility of a solution), they announce to the organization with great fanfare how this new challenge will be tackled. But what kind of responses do they get from others in the organization? “Why are you doing this to us?” “Am I going to lose my job?” “How do I fit into this new organization?” “Your solution might be a good one, but you don’t understand; it doesn’t really apply to my part in the organization.”

Leaders are often confused and angry when others don’t seem to “get it” and eagerly jump on board with the plan. They assume that others are just not willing to deal with the change and be as open to the potential solutions as they themselves are. But, in fact, others may not be against the plan; they may just be working through the stages of understanding the issue or change. Leaders have simply forgotten that they went through these same stages.

The peacemaker who makes meaning out of chaos understands the change process and seeks to help others who are at different stages in the process understand the facts and feel comfortable in an evolving environment.

Peacemakers understand the longer-term view. Even as we stop focusing on ourselves, begin building interpersonal relationships, and seek to understand the progressive stages of change, we also need to take a longer-term view of the issues or changes. Too often people make small, short-term improvements that send their organizations into a rapid-fire series of chaotic adjustments; then they make more small changes that rip apart their employees’ morale.

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