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Challenging limiting beliefs: is it time to reinvent yourself?


There are two sides to every story, but change stories have a few more besides. Just as we have multiple stakeholders in our change initiatives with multiple perspectives to consider, there is more than one side to ourselves as change leaders worth examining. In this blog, I’ll be taking a look at two dimensions that can get in the way or unblock the change we are trying to create: our ability to influence others and our belief that we can.





So what is the first conversation you have with the person or people you want to change, whether it’s rallying support for your change ideas, or well in to the programme when the stakes can feel much higher?


The mistake many of us default to is using “logic” and dive straight in with our case for change, presenting evidence and arguments in an effort to “convince” them this is the way to go. If we are talking to someone who is already a convert, happy days. But the chances are we’ll be greeted with resistance, from plain curiosity to outright rejection, with various forms of fence-sitting and avoidance in-between.

So why can’t we just make a direct strike at those beliefs with “the truth” and watch the scales fall from their eyes? It has to do with timing - when our stakeholders feel safe; and how the case is presented - as something they have a degree of control over.

Our basic human instinct is to survive. Our brains scan the environment 4-5 times per second for potential threats and rewards. They use this data to make predictions and decide what action to take to keep us safe from threat or to reap the reward. In the face of uncertainty or ambiguity, our brains prefer to avoid risk and choose safety. Critical to our brain’s prediction of risk and reward, is our BASKET - our beliefs, attitudes, skills, knowledge, experience and talents.


Take the case of the Roy, the engineer in a long-established energy company where TQM and right-first-time are entrenched in the mindset. When Roy meets Rachel, rallying support for the company’s digitalisation strategy and espousing the benefits of design thinking, agile sprints and failing fast, Roy’s brain does its scan and identifies a threat. How he perceives his own competence and credibility, his very identity, is in danger. His brain triggers the fight/flight/freeze defence mechanism and chooses freeze - he engages superficially with Rachel and proceeds to bury his head in his (perfect and solitary) work.


The keys to Rachel unlocking resistance is making Roy feel safe before embarking on persuasion; and presenting the case in a form that gives him opportunity to contribute to the solution. It starts with active listening.


Our goal as influencers for change is to listen for the distortions, generalisations and omissions that change resistors are making about the reality of the situation. These are the signposts to the their underlying BASKETs. When we ask questions like: “What makes you believe that?” or “What brings you to say that?” we are asking them to reveal what’s in their BASKET.


Now they have revealed some of their identity, what drives their motivation to act, it starts to reveal why our case for change is or could be seen as a threat. Our job is to neither challenge nor agree, but to create empathy by acknowledging what they say and showing that we hear and understand them. We create empathy by repeating, summarising and paraphrasing what the other person says.


Empathy creates the platform for rapport-building, which is about finding common ground on our BASKETs. It’s about reducing the uncertainty we have about each other because of the similarities we share, reducing the threat, and building a sense of trust.


Now we have licence to meet our stakeholders where they are at, to gently address their concerns and to influence for change. Now is the time to drip feed the evidence and ask “if” and “if…then…” questions, at the same time as giving them opportunity to change on their own terms. “What if the biggest risk to our business is no longer failing to deliver the perfect solution?”….. “If the biggest risk is now taking too long to find any solution then how can we speed up the cycle time?”

Many of you may already know this approach as the FBI stairway to behavioural change and are using it to influence change successfully. If you didn’t know it or aren’t using it, there might be a second dimension worth considering. Leading change can be as much about the resistance from our own identity and BASKETs as it is about our stakeholders’.

This isn’t about the change initiative itself, more our motivation to influence others. We too have survival drive, threat and reward scanning brains, and BASKETS that our brains factor in to predictions about safety and reward that motivate us to stay below the parapet or stride out courageously.


Rachel is struggling to change mindsets across the organisation because her BASKET, her beliefs in particular, are holding her back. She hasn’t booked another meeting with Roy because there is something about another encounter that is holding her back. She’s telling us that he’s too busy, she can’t bother him again, that it will take too long to go through the trust building cycle and Roy will think she’s insincere and just plain annoying.


If you relate to these justifications then the imperative for change is now on you.


What is it we believe about ourselves and our relationships with others that is holding us back? Are we afraid of looking stupid, of being rejected, of failing to accomplish what we set out to achieve? Digging deep, looking for those limiting beliefs and holding them up for scrutiny is a giant leap forwards in our own capability to lead change, and our own self confidence.


Once we have found them, our job is to challenge limiting beliefs vigorously with reality. We are questioning our own generalisation, distortions and omissions. What is the evidence for our belief? What are the alternative perspectives? How realistic or significant are the predictions we fear? If the evidence is unequivocal, for instance we’re not accomplished influencers, what action can we take to bridge the gap? Sometimes just accepting our fears and plunging in anyway is the only way to get past them.


If our reality check concludes that our beliefs are our only obstacle, then repeatedly challenging our beliefs will permanently change our inner dialogue to a more realistic and effective outlook that will energise us in to action. Doing this with a friend, coach or mentor helps bring objectivity to our insights, and avoids blind risk taking when pure courage is called for.


What we are doing is changing our identity. We are modifying our own BASKETs to enable us to be more effective change leaders and to feel more comfortable in our own skin. It takes sustained effort, but it is possible and the rewards are worth it.

Whether we are trying to influence others to change, or considering how we might need to reinvent ourselves, building our own self trust as well as relationship trust with others is achieved by connecting with our BASKETs.


Have you been struck?

If you have been struck by the content of this article and would like to collaborate or partner with us, contact eva@evalutioncoach.com or david@k3cubed.com

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Knowledge Management . Change Management . Transformational Leadership . Change Leadership . Team Development . Coaching Culture . Knowledge Sharing Culture . Stakeholder Management . Applied Influence . Cultural Change . Change Informatics . Knowledge Informatics . High-Performance Teams . Micro-Experiments . Change Impact Assessment . Knowledge Management Benchmarking . Agile Learning Benchmarking .