PART 2: Linguistics, psychology and a humanistic perspective of change management: 6 Common Errors.

In the previous article I outlined the linguistic, psychological and humanistic elements of change management and I now plan to investigate six of the most common errors that occur in “Change Management” that I have encountered in over 30 years involvement in this area.

I propose that the application of Neuro Linguistic Programming to the process of “Change Management” can enhance the inplementation & compliance and greatly reduce, if not totally eliminate, resistance.

Very briefly, Neuro Linguistic Programming posits that:
– Everyone has three “Representation Systems” (R.S.) which dictate how we interact in, and with, the world that surrounds us. These R.S. are named : Visual, Auditive & Kinesthetic (also known as: V.A.K.)
– We all also have a preferred, subordinate and less-developed R.S. system that we use as appropriate either in our work environment or, alternatively, outside of it. No one is ever 100% V, A or K. – we use each system as, and when, we need it.

Note: In this article the term “Visual” , “Auditive” or “Kinesthetic” refers to people who appear to have this as their preferred Representation System.

A brief, and general overview of the characteristics of each Representation Systems as applied to “Change Management”:

– Visuals: – considered to be around 78% of the population – This is due to the prevalence of visual input nowadays: Television, video, internet, etc. In general, they are not too worried about change as they live with it every day. They have the capacity to adapt to new ideas & methods more or less rapidly. They do, however, tend to have problems following all the detailed elements required in the implementation of the change; new systems, internal & external compliance, etc. They tend to use visually-oriented language: Look, see, visualize, etc. Frequently they are in jobs such as marketing & sales or positions which require creativity. They tend to make decisions rapidly, often without having all the data.

– Auditives, approximately 12% of the population, tend to have the greatest resistance to change. They love structure, systems, rules, checklists, etc. If it has worked for years, it is difficult to convince them of the need for change. They usually have jobs that require detail, analysis, data, etc. The tend to use auditive- oriented language: Examine, discuss, analyse, study, etc. They tend to have great problems making decisions because they always seem to need one more piece of information. They also tend not to trust their emotions. They greatly appreciate the opportunity fo discuss the planned changes before they begin. In this way they feel that they have been consulted and “listened to” – even if the result is different from what they wanted!

– Kinesthetics (considered to be about 10% of the population) generally need time to adapt to, and accept, changes. The word “kinesthetics” includes emotion, touch, taste & smell. They need to feel safe with the planned changes. Everything is black or white, love or hate! For them, the most important part of their work, for them, involves their contact with other people. Everything is evaluated on how it feels to them. They take a long time to make a decision and will not do so until it “feels right”. They tend to use more emotive language: feel, rough, soft, bitter, etc. They are often in people-centred jobs such as nursing; the caring professions such as psychology, physiotherapy, etc. Many sport people, professional chefs, sommeliers, hairdressers,  Perfume “noses”, etc., also have a kinesthetic preferred system.

(For more information about NLP, please Google it!)

(1) The Change leaders or “managers” have NO knowledge or training about techniques that can be used to identify possible resistance or facilitation.

Once senior managers or “Change Managers” are aware of, and/or trained in, the basic elements of NLP, they should ensure that this knowledge is applied to the process – from the very beginning. This requires preparing strategies, tactics and material to reach 100% of the audience, not just some of them. This may well require extra effort, expense or time however it ensures that the required results are achieved more rapidly, effectively and more importantly, with 100% compliance and 0% resistance.

(2) Imposing change instead of making a compelling and urgent case for it that is communicated in different ways according to the three Representation Systems indicated above.
When something is imposed upon us, there is a tendency to react, or overreact, against this imposition either overtly or covertly. A graphic and real example of this overt resistance is what is happening in Spain & Greece where there are daily demonstrations against the government’s anti-crisis measures. An example of covert resistance might be subtle sabotage or non-compliance with the imposed change. People do NOT like imposition and will fight it! It is much better to anticipate what elements of change should be communicated to the people involved – bearing in mind the points mentioned in item # 1 (above).

– Visual need graphics / visuals to help them to rapidly understand what is happening & how. The details are not important to them. A visual overview and a rough implementation schedule is all they really need. If you can provide them with specific benefits for them, even better!

– Auditives need references, detailed plans, schedules, lists, etc., and a detailed analysis of WHY the change should be implemented and exactly HOW they would be affected!

– Kinesthetics need to know the specific problems from a “humanistic” point-of-view and the specific BENEFITS of the change for THEM. They need to know how it is going to affect their interpersonal relationships, their professional & personal lives, etc. Ideally, they need to be treated individually in a personal interview and with plenty of time for them to get in touch with their feelings.

This means that instead of having just one set of standardized documentation or “sales” plan, there is a need to allocate sufficient resources in the different types of material and activities required for the three Representation Systems.

(3)Moving too fast too soon:
The ideal way of introducing change for auditives and kinesthetics is to start slowly, make one small change, cement it in place, then make one more bigger step and, once again cement it in place and so on to get the ball rolling. Once the ball is rolling, it is like a snowball rolling down a hill: it gains momentum and size as it moves forward and becomes difficult to stop! The time “lost” by going slow initially is regained by the gradually increasing momentum of the process which can, in some cases, be increased by the affected employees themselves.

If in doubt about this, we recommend that you start small and try out each element and analyse the result before making a 100% commitment!

(4) An over-reliance on structures/systems or models instead of understanding that it is people who are the most important element of change.
Many Change Managers &/or their organizations seem to believe that with “their” system / structure / model / book or video, etc., the change will magically happen: “Pay us and we’ll make the change happen!” However, The key to effect change management is knowing how to elegantly take the people to where you want them to be of their own accord – not by force or threats, but by convincing them in the most appropriate ways for them to process mentally.

(5) leaders’ inability or unwillingness to confront how they and their roles must change.
It appears that many senior managers tend to feel that they don’t have to change because they are the boss, however, others have to change because he/she has decide for them. Change affects everyone and no-one should be exempt from making the changes require solely because of their position. Employees generally do what their bosses do because the boss is usually a role-model of how to survive & progress in the organization. If the boss doesn’t change, why should they?

(6) A Failure to mobilize and engage the social powers & influences.
In every organization, no matter its size, you will always find three basic groups of people:
“Hierarchical Powers” – Senior management: President, Country Manager, General Manager, etc.
“Social Powers” – The workmate that everyone follows (the joker, the “rebel” , etc).
“Influences” – Those who influence the powers directly or indirectly (friends, family, colleagues, etc)
“Hot bodies” – Those who have no power or involvement in any decision-making process.

Normally it is the hierarchical powers” in the organization who make the decisions about “Change Management” assisted or guided by the people who have influence over them.
The “Hot bodies” are those who are merely expected to comply obediently with the planned changes.
The “Social Powers” are the ones that are often overlooked or ignored in the Change Management process. These are the people that should be involved, if possible, from the very start of whatever process is going to be used. Once they are on-board, they can be used as white knights to champion the changes using their often considerable influence over the other employees.

We believe that it is vital that instead of talking about “Change” it is much better to use the word “improve”. Implicit in the word “improve” is that what is being, or has been, done is good but can be done more effectively or better. Psychologically, there are little, or no, negative connotations to this word which with the word “change” there are many (see the previous article).

One practical technique which we always recommend is the following: when talking about the proposed changes, don’t focus on what will be different or new. Instead, place the emphasis on how many things will stay the same and give a minimum of three examples (the rule of three). Then discuss the improvements that will be made – once again give three examples and the attendant benefits. Finally, provide details about HOW the people involved will be trained in the introduction of the new improvements.

I would like to propose that we forget the term “Change Management” and use “improvement implementation” instead!

It is hoped that the points outlined in this article will help you introduce more elegant and effective techniques to achieve your desired outcomes.

© Ian Brownlee, Brownlee & Associates, S.L., Madrid, Spain. November, 2012
Bilingual web page (English & Spanish):


About ianbrownlee

Ian Brownlee, the founder of Brownlee & Associates has been actively involved in the field of interpersonal & transcultural communication since 1977. He has worked in universities and companies in the following countries: Laos, Thailand, Hong Kong, Korea, Japan, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, France, Italy, England, The United States of America & Spain, as a teacher, university lecturer, trainer, researcher & consultant. In addition, his experience in living in these countries, and studying the language & communication and interaction styles of each has aided him in reaching a real understanding of intercultural and transcultural differences and how to resolve them. Ian Brownlee has various masters degrees from British Universities: One in Linguistics & Teaching English Overseas from Manchester University, one in Training & Development with a specialization in the area of Communication and Adult learning awarded by the University of Sheffield. He has also gained professional qualifications in Psychotherapy & Hypnotherapy from various professional organizations. During his university career he has also studied elements of Sociology, Organizational psychology, Educational psychology, Psycholinguistics and Kinesics. He is a licensed Practitioner, Master Practitioner, and Master Trainer in NLP. as well as being a trainer in Ericksonian Hypnosis. He is a member of a wide range of professional organizations involved in Training, Applied Psychology, Hypnotherapy & Ericksonian Hypnosis, Psychotherapy, Interpersonal Communication & Cross-cultural Communication. He is also recognized by the Program on Negotiation, Harvard University, as a Negotiation Skills Trainer & Mediator and has been a collaborator on various projects with the program, and as such is in great demand as a negotiation consultant for some of the largest multinationals operating worldwide. His wide experience gained in multinational organizations in positions such as Director of Training, Communications Consultant and Negotiator / Mediator has helped many people to learn and apply new methods of negotiating skills and advanced communication techniques both in their private and professional lives. He has published various articles & books related to the field of interpersonal communication and he is the author of all the courses taught by Brownlee & Associates. He has lived and worked in Spain since 1985, initially as a trainer / Special Assistant in a multinational pharmaceutical company and then as the Training Manager for a multinational company involved in Clinical Analysis & Nuclear Medicine. Brownlee & Associates was formed in 1991 and currently has a small, highly-trained staff. While based in Madrid, courses are given world-wide either in English or Spanish. Brownlee & Associates currently work with leading international companies in the areas of pharmaceuticals , Information systems, luxury products, food & beverages, etc.
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5 Responses to PART 2: Linguistics, psychology and a humanistic perspective of change management: 6 Common Errors.

  1. Mnemonist says:

    Interesting, Ian. Especially, hot bodies, social powers, hierarchical powers and influences. thanks for sharing

  2. Bruce Morrow says:

    Love the notion that the Social Powers can be the true movers. Often, they are seen as a threat by management. They’re good at what they do, but their manner suggests they’re not on board when, in fact, they are. They’re also usually “scary smart,” which tends to make management nervous. Good stuff. Thank you.

  3. Pingback: What is Spatial Anchoring in Presentations and Training? | ianbrownlee

  4. Noga says:

    Thank you, Ian. This is interesting and provokes thinking. You have discussed the meaning of the work “change”. I am not sure we won’t find ourselves standing in the same place with improvement, which could have the context of “something is wrong today and should be fixed in the future”…

    • ianbrownlee says:

      Thanks for your comments, Noga,
      In dealing with clinical clients, I have found that the use of the word “improvement” is not perceived as having negative connotation. The difference is here: “What would you like to change?” (fear inducing) vs “What would you like to improve?” (non-fear inducing) Something does not have to be wrong today to be improved. If this were true, half of marketing material would be inappropriate! 🙂

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