Champagne-induced dialogue on change, why we are scared of it and why do people carry on talking when no one is listening….

Mar 30, 2012 by

Champagne-induced dialogue on change, why we are scared of it and why do people carry on talking when no one is listening….

A friend of mine  hesitates at the thought of moving to another place. He would do that for a woman he feels strongly about, but the thought of changing his life overwhelms him. We open a glass of champagne (to celebrate other things) and to think about his situation.

“It’s fear, Jola” he says “fear of the unknown and that I will ultimately regret the move…”

“In both senses of the word I presume…,” I say. He smiles.  A subdued pensive smile strained to bridge one cheek with another.

I wonder, with a glass of champagne in one hand and my chin in another, why some people are terrified of change, and others plunge into it as if it were the most natural thing to do.  Then an answer comes, rushed by a few gulps of alcohol…

“If you don’t know what it’s about, it’s about culture…” (that’s my own private variation on the more famous saying).

I believe most of us in Europe belong to the first category, but across the Atlantic I met a lot of people who personified an American cultural norm that change is to be embraced, not be afraid of, or for that matter, be deliberated upon over a bottle of champagne and sour cucumbers.

“I think there are two main motives at work here”, I say as my philosophical self feeds on another portion of alcohol, “Fear and passion.”

“Now there we go. Let’s talk America, shall we?” An ironic smile this time, a more confident one.

“I know I simplify again, and use big concepts, but they do help, you know, to sort things out, that’s what language and alcohol are all about, getting to the gist of things, but anyway,  that’s for another occasion (is there anything to celebrate tomorrow?).  So there it is, our infamous couple, fear and passion, that either make us stop in the face of change, or go with it and shape it along. That’s what I saw in America: many of these young Ivy Leage students…”

“There we go again … Jola, I am 35 years old…” Numbers don’s stop me (unless you need to do something with them) so I go on

“… energetic, dynamic, talking of change as if it were the most self-evident truth…”

“A buttery butter…”

“… an apple to eat for breakfast, a mechanism of life, more so than stability and family and ties… I am not saying it’s good…”

“No but you are saying a lot…” A friendly smile, my favorite of the  evening.

“… just different. And they never speak of regretting, you know, I guess it does not fit into a cultural norm , either: you do not look back there, at least not with a European air of wistfulness and nostalgia, you just look forward…”

“In a TV screen, that’s forward enough…”

“So they look forward and move forward, from one state to another, one country to another, one project to another, catching every moment like a handball, firm and dynamic, leading on change, in fact being faster than it is and helping it along …”A clock strikes 11 cutting across my champagne-induced monologue, and maybe better so.

“Hmmm…” says my friend like Chekhovian heroes do when they keep absorbing words and alcohol mixing in their stomachs. This I take as a confirmation. An American would say “Right.” and probably would have added  ”So what are the next steps, what do we do with it?”

We carry on drinking…

This scene was supposed to be a short introduction to a subject of change and systems, but turned into a dialogue where change was in the air, drifting like a ghost over our soon-to-be empty bottle. Deliberated upon.  Kept at a safe distance (change, not bottle; we drank from one against the other).

I believe (and now I am sober again) that such scenes are at the heart of change in a business sense as well as in a more general life sense. The term “change management” sounds  to-the-point, strategic, dry, rational, but in fact its substance is emotional and its methods need be as well.

How do you fight against peoples’  fear of change? How do you inspire them to an extent in which primordial existential fears give way to the relatively new values and requirements (or dowe turn requirements of success into values…?) of XX and XXIst century such as interest in work, mobility, the will to change things, to take over initiative, to develop your portfolio etc…. To put down a glass of champagne and do something about one’s situation?

Thinking in systems is a relatively new approach which allows emotions to play a role in change processes. Clarifying where the problems lie and visualizing parts of the system is a way to reach people on the rational level, but to reach their emotions as well.

Through a precise use of language (definitions, questions, but also graphical representations of interdependencies) we are able to create borders and characterization of the systems we live in: be it family, workplace, a dance team. Once we have that clear representation we can easier effect change and make it more targeted which does not automatically mean devoid of emotional substance.

Meaning, sense and purpose of work (and life in general) are in my view the only forces that can in the long run keep a human being satisfied with, efficient  and good at what they do.

One way to induce  that is by introducing a conversation as part of everyday professional practice. I do not suggest bringing champagne to work every day as this would probably have an impact on the company’s productivity (even though who knows, in creative branches of business…), but a conversation itself, a deep and an empathic one is crucial for making people feel well and in the right place on Earth.

This is a challenge not just for human resources but for all leaders, a business, psychological and a literary challenge:  to understand the employee, with his emotions as well as faculties, and inspire them to contribute to the system they are part of. Make them effect change, not just deliberate upon it and fear it.

When we finished our conversation it was past midnight and the moon gradually receded behind the clouds, bored of my semi-philosophical harangue. On the following morning no change could be observed apart from a sore stomach.

Related Posts


Share This

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *