The other day I met a former university colleague who I hadn't seen for several years, and we got into a conversation about how we'd changed our minds on a number of important issues. We also speculated about some of our mutual colleagues and were deciding which ones, when faced with research or other evidence, could change their minds and which would hold tight to their orginal beliefs and commitments in spite of evidence to the contrary. As I slept on the conversation, I thought about how necessary it is to change your mind on some issues--and how difficult it can be.
My thoughts went rather quickly to how the financial debacle and the global economy are forcing us to change our minds about a number of issues, some of which seem like small potatoes, yet can have great impact upon our careers. For example, just a simple mention about the role of government in business can get us into a heated conversation, suggesting that the slightest notion of a shift in that thinking will go nowhere. On other occasions, there are only small, slightly nuanced environmental changes that we may miss. They take place over time and we fail to see them and adjust until it's too late, and we suffer the consequences.
Because my business is focused upon career performance and career development, I'm sensitized to that field and the important career changes and shifts that are taking place. I also see how difficult it can be for us to change our mind, even though the evidence is staring us in the face.
How to get promoted.
Take a simple concept like a work promotion. Who really promotes you? Everyone will tell you that your boss promotes you. Oh yeah? Let's see if I can change your mind.
Why does a person get promoted? Boss's favorite? Not usually? Quality of work performance? That probably has something to do with it. But what, specifically, about a person's performance makes the boss want to support her?
Here's what execs tell me: she's an excellent coach, takes care of her people, supports her people, works easily with her peers, makes contributions outside of her own projects, lends her resources as needed, shares her problem-solving skills whenever possible, mentors her people and others also, shares information throughout the organization.
Actually, the boss just confirms what her subordinates, her peers and others throughout the organization have to say about her. And managers don't make those decisions without input and agreement from their peers and other bosses. So does your boss promote you? Nope. A promotion is the work of any number of people. That's also what the research shows.
Why is changing your mind hard?
Over time all of us build a superstructure of ideas around any mental model we hold. We think bosses are in charge, so we try to satisfy that boss. We're probably friendly with our peers, but offer little unsolicited help, and sometimes won't help even when solicited. After all, goes the thinking, we work for our boss, not a group of people, or even the organization.
If you change your belief about promotions, you're going to have to change a number of behaviors. You may need to share resources, offer information to a lot more people, take the time to develop new relationships, mentor and coach outside your immediate group, and take on a dozen other responsibilities.
So you can see why it's hard to change your mind about who promotes you. There's a lot more involved than just your boss. You've got to get rid of more than one idea before you can fully accept a different idea. And for a period of time, you'll be caught in what Rosabeth Kanter calls the miserable middle--trying to figure out the different behaviors your new understanding is going to require.
Changing your mind is never just an item by item process, and that makes it tough.