Monday, January 5, 2015

Change, decision making, and emotions

Unless you are Sheldon Cooper or Spock, logic only plays a small role in the decisions you make.  We can make lists of reasons for and against a decision, but when it comes crunch time our emotions will play a large part in the final decision we make.  Chip and Dan Heath makes this point well in their excellent book Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work when they write, "When you strip away all the rational mechanics of decision making - the generation of options, the weighing of information - what's left at the core is emotions...The buck stops with emotion."

Perhaps one of the greatest of these emotions is fear.  We are afraid of making mistakes, of being wrong.  We are afraid of what others might think of us if we make one choice over another.  We are afraid that the choices we make will put us in a situation from which we cannot escape.

As many of you know, a couple of years ago I started an auction business and got my auction license.  It's funny to watch people struggling to decide whether or not to increase their bid by a couple of dollars.  I've seen people anguish over the decision to bid another five dollars on something they've already bid over a hundred dollars on.  It's obvious this is something they want, but fear takes over and prevents them from bidding.  About the time the auctioneer declares the item sold, they will raise their hand to increase their bid, but by that time it's too late.  Someone else owns it.  I think this gives them the psychological satisfying sense that they tried to buy it but waited just a split-second too long.

As I work with the churches in my area I've never had one tell me they didn't want to reach new people, or grow, or impact people's lives.  But, when you begin to talk about the changes they might have to make to accomplish any of these you can see the fear in their eyes and hear it in their words.  Logically, they want to do the things they say they want to do, but emotionally many of them cannot let go of the familiar to make the changes needed to accomplish those things.

As leaders, we make a mistake if we just focus on all the reasons why we need to move forward with the changes that are needed.  We will seldom convince others that we need to make changes with logic alone.  We must address the emotional aspects of those changes as well.  Too often we just focus on the "what" of the changes and never address the "whys."

In smaller churches, especially, the fear that is generated when talking about change centers around some basic questions.

  • How will this impact the relationships that exist in their church?  In smaller churches, relationships are key to everything, and change leaders must not overlook that.
  • How will this impact my role in the church?  People who have invested their lives in a church will certainly be asking this question, and their fear is that their role will change.
  • Will I even still have a role in this church is we move forward with the change?  Here the above fear is intensified.
To make better decisions and to be an effective change agent we must recognize the role that emotions play.  Effectively address those emotions and you will make better decisions and will see changes occur more frequently.  Ignore the emotions and few changes will occur in your life and ministry.

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