Why Is Change So Emotional?

For this article by Jo Ilfeld, Executive Leadership Coach on on why change is emotional the image a yellow painted wall being painted over with an orange roller.

In the midst of organizational change, ever wondered why rationality often takes a back seat?

Recently, I was talking with a client about a big change effort that she and her team are immersed in.  We were exploring why individuals weren’t embracing the transition logically.

The conclusion we came to is that change invariably carries an emotional component, whether it promises improvement or upheaval.

Even if the change is for the best, even if we see that it will make things better, change requires effort. 

And we often have feelings about effort.  We feel burnt out. We feel tired. We feel like we can’t handle one more thing.

Or we feel energized by the change and then feel frustrated that others don’t feel the same way.

This mix of emotions like these complicates the perception of change’s necessity

All this is to say, “We have feelings!”

Here’s what I suggested to this client. It is important to break apart how people FEEL about the change from whether people THINK the change is the right choice for the organization.

A great way to do that is to ask people, “How will this change affect you personally? What will it do to your life, your team, your workflows, etc?”

Allow space for people to share that. That then leads into talking about understanding how hard change can be and whether or not it is the right choice for the organization.

By splitting personal sentiments from organizational rationale, there is more clarity.

Oftentimes, when we are pitching change efforts, what we are hearing is a garbled mixture of the two.

It’s hard to disentangle how much of it is someone’s personal distaste for change versus their belief that this is the wrong decision for the company.

Do you want more on change? Read Uncertainty and Change: It Needs to be Addressed

Jo Ilfeld, PhD

An executive leadership coach, Jo helps C-suite leaders, executives, and high-potential managers develop the flexibility, skill, and frame of mind to meet the challenges of the next five, ten, twenty years…. and beyond. She works with individuals, teams and organizations on four core areas of leadership development. Check out Jo's bio page for more information.

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