The Drivers of Change – Emotional More Than Rational

People are more likely to change their position for emotional rather than rational reasons.

In the political arena try convincing a person from the “other” side with “facts” and your argument drops like a lead brick. And when someone tells you that you need to change think about your resistance.

But there are times that change we must especially if our behavior derails our work and relationships.

However, have you thought that the person telling you to change may be giving you an important gift?

That is especially true if they are keenly attuned to your situation and care for you deeply. What if it were,

  • A customer telling you that the quality of your service is slipping and you needed a new approach?
  • A doctor informing you that you should change your diet or you will die?
  • A boss telling you that you need to learn delegation skills or you would not be promoted?
  • A close friend telling you that your abrasive speech was alienating others?
  • A spouse telling an alcohol abusing partner to get help or he/she would leave?

Few would deny that each of the above would not indicate a need for change. What then are the factors that cause us to change? That reminds me of a joke. How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb? Answer: Only one, but the light bulb must want to change. We change because we want to. What drives that want?

 The Drivers of Change

 There is strong evidence that change is generated by two emotionally based factors.

  1. The consequences of changing

A case that comes to mind is that of an executive who was told that he would not be promoted unless he learned better collaboration skills. He was one of the smartest people in his organization. He was quite capable of making great business decisions on his own. However, his team needed to be included in the decision-making process in order to feel that they had skin in the game. The message – change and get promoted.

  1. The emotional drive to influence others.

Here the question is whether the drive to change is rational or emotional. Scottish philosopher David Hume wrote that reason was fit only to be “the slave of the passions.” Reason defends the underlying emotions. And these emotions are driven by the underlying motivation to influence others. We change because we are keenly interested in what others think/feel. Now for people who don’t care what others think or are oblivious of the opinion of others these social factors don’t even factor into the change process.

Finally, the proposed change needs to be linked to the biggest emotional driver of all,  what you want and how that impacts others.

 Now Change

 So you want to change? What next?

  • Seek honest and direct feedback from those who matter to you.
  • Regard feedback as a gift and not a judgment.
  • Look for the emotional reasons for your resistance e.g. your deeply held cultural beliefs.
  • Decide that not changing can derail our job or relationships.
  • Recognize that we don’t often have a good 360-degree perspective on the impact of our own behavior.
  • Link the change to something you or the other person really wants.
  • Find evidence-based ways to change our behavior.

So now go ahead and make the change happen.


About cedricj

I am a licensed psychologist and management consultant and have always been intrigued by how leaders can inspire people in their organizations. The bottom line is that people are not always motivated by material rewards, the use of the carrot or the stick, fear and intimidation,and command and control, Five human needs inspire and drive us. Kristine S MacKain, Ph.D and myself describe these inspirational forces in our book "What Inspirational Leaders Do" (Kindle 2008)
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2 Responses to The Drivers of Change – Emotional More Than Rational

  1. moeleftwich says:

    A lot of times people don’t change because they feel it is admitting they were doing something wrong, or because it is uncomfortable.

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