The Neurology of Change Management


This is the new buzzword as we traverse today’s political environment. Each presidential hopeful on the campaign trail saying that he or she is *the* change agent of choice. And of course, everyone is looking for a change.

But change is difficult, something sales reps and business people know all to well. Ask any manager, sales rep, or anyone in IT, and they will tell you that change management is a hot discussion topic. And it always comes up as a subject for corporate training.

Now, starting new projects, bringing in new technology, and changing business processes always seems to spark resistance. For a time, we had no concrete reasons why this resistance was so palpable.

Well, now we do.

With new technology and advances made in neurosciences, understanding the reasons for resisting change are now coming into focus. Using new medical technology, scientists are able to view brain activity during certain thinking processes. In Christopher Koch’s CIO article “Change Management – Understanding the Science of Change”:

Change lights up an area of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, which is like RAM memory in a PC. The prefrontal cortex is fast and agile, able to hold multiple threads of logic at once to enable quick calculations. But like RAM, the prefrontal cortex’s capacity is finite—it can deal comfortably with only a handful of concepts before bumping up against limits. That bump generates a palpable sense of discomfort and produces fatigue and even anger.

The Secret That Sales People Have Known For Decades

The article also supports something that sales people have known for a while. When I first started in sales, I heard Tom Hopkins tell an audience of 2000 sales people:

If you say it, then it’s not real. If they say it, it’s believable.

And in the book, How To Win Friends And Influence People, Dale Carnegie’s 16th human relations principle states:

[inlinetweet]Let the other person feel that the idea is his or hers.[/inlinetweet]

In support of this, Koch writes:

The way to get past the prefrontal cortex’s defenses is to help people come to their own resolution regarding the concepts causing their prefrontal cortex to bristle. These moments of resolution or insight—call them epiphanies—appear to be as soothing to the prefrontal cortex as the unfamiliar is threatening.

One method to make this happen is outlined a little further down in Koch’s article. There, he quotes David Rock, founder and CEO of Results Coaching Systems:

Rock also says that asking questions gets people to voice their ideas. And according to the brain scans, voicing ideas creates more activity and connectivity in the brain than hearing an idea spoken by someone else. “The best way to get people to change is to lay out the objective in basic terms and then ask them how they would go about getting there,” Rock says.

Again, in the book, “How To Win Friends And Influence People”, Dale Carnegies 25th principle on leadership states, “Ask questions instead of giving direct orders.”  By asking questions, we get buy in from the team and they take ownership of the discoveries.

There is a wealth of information on change management in the article. Y can also find several of Dale Carnegie’s human relations principles mentioned throughout the text. Read it here on the CIO website.


P.S. Oh, yes.  Download my ebook Maximum Impact and add some additional firepower to your communication skills.

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