Paradoxes of Change

1-2-3Summer vacation often bring moments of relaxation that enable us to step back and take a break, to clear our thinking, refresh our ideas, take the time to examine certain situations from another angle. If you are among those who have chosen this option, I would like to propose some ideas I have been mulling over these past months.

While working with those who deal with change, I have become aware of two things:

To effect a truly deep change, we cannot but change ourselves: This is what in my jargon is called “systemic effect”: each one of us is a complex system both with regards to our body and our spirit. A team of co-workers is also a complex system since it comprises a group of individuals who are very different from one another both with regards to their reactions vis-à-vis change and the time each will require to adjust to a new situation. In every complex system, we observe a phenomenon of resonance between what goes on inside and what goes on outside, i.e. within the individual and inside the system that surrounds him. The two systems are comparable to two mirrors facing each other.

On an individual level, we realize that we often blame others for not changing or for always behaving “this way or that way”. Yet if we don’t start by changing something within ourselves and/or in our approach, it is very likely that others will always have the same reaction toward us. Likewise, when a manager deals with change, the first question he should ask himself is: what should I change in my way of thinking and in my behavior to convince others to follow me and – more important – to encourage them to question their own behavior?

The second thought that comes to my mind concerns paradoxes: Implementing change is a process strewn with paradoxes. To implement change effectively we must find harmony between two apparently incompatible extremes. This is an “art”: there is no magic formula. Each one of us has to find his/her own personal equation which may change depending on context. Once we are aware of this, it becomes obvious that we need to constantly strive to learn more about ourselves and the world around us. What follows is a list of paradoxes I have found; if you know of others, I would like to hear about them!

Paradox 1: How can we remain flexible and at the same time keep the situation under control?

Whenever change occurs, we move from a well-known situation to a new one. It is obvious that we cannot be 100% certain about the results. Consequently, if we remain set in our initial ideas, we risk not being able to adapt to innovations, a dangerous attitude should they finally evolve into positive results. To prevent this problem, the first step in finding a solution is taking a firm look at both the situation and the final objective, and then adapting to the new methods or changing the action plan to attain our goal.

This requires an open mind and a willingness to listen and observe what goes on in the field, a task that is not always easy, particularly when we are under stress and have to meet a deadline for a report. In these situations, flexibility may become difficult. To relieve stress we tend to favor control, i.e. the strict application of our methods, as opposed to keeping our mind wide open, whereas an open-minded approach would perhaps help us save energy.

The question is: when should we favor control and when should we choose flexibility? The answer: keep your mind open and you will find it easier to overcome the paradox.

Paradox 2: How can I be sure of myself vis-à-vis a team since I either don’t know the final result or the way to attain it?

Teams need certainties especially in times of profound change. It is very reassuring to have a manager who shows the way, even when we don’t really like how things are changing and, if in addition, the team loves to challenge him/her. Besides, how can we be reassuring as managers when we ourselves are not sure about how to go about doing things? There’s the paradox. In this case, I recommend being very clear on the final objective and encouraging a dialogue to find the best solutions to attain it, by taking advantage of collective knowledge and intelligence. Sometimes the dialogue should be extended to a large group, or else limited to a smaller group, depending on the issues and the context. Sometimes, all you have to say is “I don’t know” to realize that your co-workers are much more resilient than you think and that their ideas can be much better than yours…

Paradox 3: How to announce changes and at the same time keep employees motivated

Managers often imagine that announcing change will result in demotivation. This risk can be prevented if we pay attention to the way of communicating it and to its authenticity. Being authentic means saying what we think and acting in accordance to what we say. That does not mean that we must disclose the entire plan since this carries the risk of creating confusion due to an excess of information. Some employees will no doubt require more time to assimilate the change, while others might be more direct in expressing their disagreement or disappointment. It is wise to let time take care of the process: if communication is properly handled, employees will follow suit. One thing is certain, however: if things are not clearly stated, employees will soon hear about them on the grapevine and this will obviously make the management of change much more difficult.

Paradox 4: How to move fast and at the same time make sure that everybody is on board

It all depends on the rhythm with which the plan evolves. A certain pace is needed to make sure that the final goal is rapidly attained. It reassures both managers and employees. Nothing is worse than periods of uncertainty.

We must also be aware of the fact that each person assimilates change at his/her own pace. In each team, we find persons who are comfortable with change, others that have a hard time adapting to it, those who are for and those who are against it.

A manager should accept the fact that total consensus simply does not exist. Consequently, an open and reassuring communication is essential. He/she must accept the fact that each person has a different pace, he must pursue an open and reassuring communication and rely on “early adopters” to convince reluctant co-workers.

Paradox 5: How can I change myself while still remaining true to myself?

As I said at the beginning of this newsletter we cannot implement change effectively unless we accept to change ourselves, either because we must become more flexible, or because we need to encourage co-workers to cooperate and therefore must listen to them, or simply because we must change our way of proceeding, etc. How can we be true to ourselves while remaining focused on the steps leading to change?

How can we manage not to throw our co-workers off balance with our changes, when they probably need us as an anchor point? Here is the gist of this paradox… And yet, when we change something in our inner self, what others see is “simply” a greater flexibility, less tension, less stress. Just try it…you’d be surprised!


To come out ahead we need experience, a better knowledge of ourselves, a certain wisdom that doesn’t depend on age but rather on our own thinking. The result is often amazing because it leads to a feeling of peace within ourselves.

Anna Gallotti

Anna Gallotti

Anna Gallotti is a Master Certified Coach and the creator and CEO of Share. Her specialty is coaching international executives and developing organizational change projects.

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