Elephants, Riders, and Change
“Once you break through to feeling, though, things change.” - Switch – How to Change Things When Things Are Hard Chip & Dan Heath
I stood in front of a group of top investment sales people – all of them dreading the internal team training I was getting ready to introduce. Want a challenge? Try teaching investment salespeople (during the boom) the importance of listening to each other and speaking with commitment, especially when they’re missing out on a sales day! I saw the tops of a lot of heads as people checked cell phones for messages, and angry glares from the rest of the group.
The group had been going through a lot of change, including a new commitment to how they interacted with each other and internal bank partners. What I knew was that there are two ways to filter change – through the mind and the heart.
In their book Switch – How to Change Things When Things Are Hard, Chip & Dan Heath use the example the Rider and the Elephant, This example was developed by UVA psychologist Jonathan Haidt in his book The Happiness Hypothesis. Haidt explains that the emotional side of change is the Elephant, while our rational side is the Rider. Perched atop the Elephant, the Rider often seems to be the leader that holds the reins – but the Rider’s hold is precarious because it’s so much smaller than the Elephant. Any time the Rider and Elephant come to blows about which direction to go, the Elephant wins. You’ll understand this every time you give up caffeine and finally buy that one Coke that starts the quitting process all over again!
Like everything in life, there is a needed balance between the Rider and the Elephant. For example, if you have a Rider and no Elephant, you have direction but no motivation. On the flipside, the Elephant without the Rider means you have passion without direction. In a recent blog on www.highfillperformancegroup.com, I discuss this very concept (watch the video Head – Heart = Confusion).
What I realized with my group of investment salespeople was that while they had been informed about what the change (Rider appeased), they didn’t believe it was the right thing to do (Elephant not happy). I realized that even if a Rider gets its way temporarily, exhaustion will soon set in after fighting the elephant for a while (if you have a toddler or a teenager, you should know exactly what I’m talking about).
So, I stopped the “information” I was delivering with my fascinating training objectives and said something that changed the entire session. I said “Let me tell you a story . . .” I went on to share a story about a business that went under because they refused to acknowledge the importance of connecting emotionally and building relationships.
I then had volunteers share a time when they lost a client because of a botched conversation (rather than rates or product selection). Suddenly the room came alive, and I had more stories from them than I could handle. I wrapped up this Elephant part of the session by saying “Now, do you understand why this change is important to you?” They did, because they had just given me about ten examples with their own, personal stories.
If you’re trying to change a group and you get a lot of confused stares, they probably need information (Rider). If you get a lot of angry stares, they probably need some motivation (Elephant). Grab your peanuts and feed the Elephant, or the change is not going to stick and the Rider’s going to need a nice, long nap!