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Beware of the reptilian brain when preparing for change

When learning of a major change or experiencing it, our brain often interprets it as a threat. Interestingly, the latest discoveries reveal that faced with a threat, our brain does not distinguish between a genuine tiger attack and a perceived minor threat. And when we feel threatened, what is called the reptilian brain takes over our thinking brain. The reptilian brain is the one of three brains responsible for managing our vital functions. The second one is the limbic brain; it is the emotional brain. The third one is the cortex; it is mainly the intellectual brain with learning and thinking abilities.

Unfortunately, when we need all of our abilities to think intelligently in a situation where we feel threatened, our energy is channeled to our reptilian brain. Typically, we then fall back on our defense mechanisms: we use the flight-or-fight response, we defend ourselves, we say things we regret, we protect ourselves. This is usually not to our advantage.

This concept is important to understand for all those who drive change. If we accept that change = threat to most people, then we must try to implement a strategy that minimizes the threat and highlights the benefits of the change initiative. As long as the perception of a threat remains, people will be less inclined to think calmly about the solutions available to them and take appropriate action.

The SCARF model of Dr. David Roch, Neuroleadership Group, provides interesting insights. To reduce the perception of threat, he basically suggests to reduce the negative components and enhance the positive aspects related to Status (how we perceive ourselves in relation to others), Certainty (being able to predict the future), Autonomy (a sense of control over events), Relatedness (our sense of belonging to a group), and sense of Fairness (transparency and fairness when giving rewards).

Are the changes you are preparing perceived as tigers?

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