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Content - What Happens During Unfreezing?
We can think of “unfreezing” as the result of interplay of three processes1: a) disconfirmation; b) induction of guilt, survival anxiety and learning anxiety; c) creation of psychological safety.
- Disconfirmation. Every change starts with some form of frustration or dissatisfaction generated by new data that disconfirm our expectations or hopes. Disconfirming information may originate in different sources and occur in different ways; what matters is that disconfirmation is a Driving Force that “attacks” the system’s equilibrium. In the example of change as the desire to give up smoking, disconfirmation might be the news that my best friend has got lung cancer. Or, in the example of a community progressively moving to the use of force with a neighbouring community, disconfirmation might come from a sudden, unexpected act of the neighbours who offer to share their tractors and help with free labour throughout the harvesting season (see here).For us:
- How can disconfirmation be part of a learning process?
- How can we generate “some form of frustration or dissatisfaction” so that the system we work with is faced with new data that disconfirm its expectations and hopes?
- How can we attack the system’s equilibrium?
- Induction of guilt , survival anxiety and learning anxiety. Disconfirming information by itself is not enough because the system can always reject it. To be accepted, to stick, disconfirmation must be connected with something that the system cares about. When this happens, “survival anxiety” makes the system feel that if it does not change, if it does not learn, it will fail to meet its needs or reach its goals. But this “induction of guilt”, that is what leads us to feel that “we need to change”, is counterbalanced with “learning anxiety”, that is the feeling that if we admit to ourselves that something needs to be changed about us (because it is wrong, imperfect or because we are not doing our best), we might loose effectiveness, self-esteem or identity. Learning anxiety is a restraining force. For us:
- How can we prevent the system from rejecting disconfirming information? How can we help it ‘stick’?
- What is it that this system cares about that can help it change, if properly used?
- How do we generate survival anxiety in our learning processes?
- What can we do to prevent learning anxiety to block change?
- Creation of psychological safety. Psychological safety makes learning and change possible. Disconfirmation introduces new data that generates dissatisfaction, but to stick it must be connected with something the system cares about. When disconfirmation sticks survival anxiety arises; but learning anxiety resists learning and change. Psychological safety is what makes it possible for us, for a system, to accept disconfirming information and feel survival anxiety without being blocked by learning anxiety. It is the essential art of balancing disconfirming information with psychological safety so that learning anxiety arises. We are familiar with the concept of psychological safety. Directly or indirectly we incorporate it into our training, psychosocial activities and through a range of programs. The point here, as above, is doing it systematically for peacebuilding. For us:
- What is psychological safety in our training/with this system?
- How can we create it?
- How do we find the right balance for the specific situation so that the system does not feel too safe? So that we do not prevent tension from rising and unfreezing the system?
1Schein, E. H., “Kurt Lewin’s Change Theory in the Field and in the Classroom: Notes Toward a Model of Managed Learning”, Ibid.
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