Top 3 Reasons We are Resistant to Change (A Medical Drama Example)

My youngest child is home on summer break from college, which means we've had lots of time spent together the last few weeks. While I typically enjoy our hangouts regardless of the activity, I was less than thrilled watching the latest season of Grey's Anatomy with her. Admittedly, this is a show I watched on TV over a decade ago, and though I once loved it (are you team McDreamy or McSteamy?) sitting through the episodes now had me cringing.

I found myself alternately gasping and shaking my head as we sat through each hour long show. My exasperated reactions while watching did not come from the exposed organs, slicing of body parts, or surgical procedures. It was the characters and their relationships that I couldn't stand.

The amount of dysfunction amongst characters was shocking. And while I understand that the drama is engineered by the producers for an eager audience, I couldn't help but notice the lack of emotional intelligence demonstrated by the characters. My daughter tells me they are on season 15 now, so clearly there is an active audience for this type of writing.

Disclaimer: possible show spoilers ahead. Proceed at your own risk.

The common thread through the episodes we watched was a resistance to change, good or bad. I find there are three main reasons that we humans are resistant to change: ego, fear, and time.

"Ego" in Latin means the word "I". Speaking about oneself using the word "I" is not unusual.  It is when every sentence starts with the word "I" or "My" that my ears perk up. In an exaggerated state the word "ego" often refers to one who is conceited or self-centered.

It would be difficult to choose just one Grey's Anatomy character that stood out for the word "I" too much. However in one episode we watched, Derek Shepherd and his sister Amy spent the entire episode trying to level up their egos to one another. Every interaction was variations of " it's my patient," "I am the best," "I matter," "I got this," etc. Despite being siblings and coworkers, they couldn't manage a single conversation that didn't revolve around themselves.

In a blog post I wrote about healthy communication, I discussed the difference between discussion and dialogue. The difference between the two being a need to make a point versus seeking to understand someone else's perspective.

Not a single conversation on this episode seemed to be from a position of seeking to understand. The characters could see the changes happening in the hospital that required their compliance but their egos were not allowing them to gracefully make the necessary change for the organization to be successful. The real-life solution would be to make fewer self-centered decisions and to seek to understand the needs of those around you.

Fear is the second major reason we may struggle with change. We are afraid of the unknown, the change in routine, the possibility of failure, and what that would mean for our role, popularity, or image. Even when the expected result is positive we often don't take the steps towards change due to fear.

Several situations on Grey's Anatomy presented characters with new career opportunities that were often met with an initial "no" due to fear of the change in their lives. Cristina Yang moving to Switzerland, Meredith Grey going to D.C. with Derek, and Alex taking a job at a pediatric hospital were all scenarios in which major change was avoided out of fear.

If we recognize that fear is a change resistor we can embrace the fear, own it out loud and see if it can be worked through to make the best decision. In the case of Cristina Yang, she was able to express her fear to Meredith and work through the change process by acknowledging her fears and weighing those against the pros.  

Time is the third reason we tend to resist change. This can be both a lack of time or too much time. Many of us are impatient people; in a world where information can be found in an instant, our ability to work within time bounds can be difficult.

Change often doesn't occur in organizations when leaders feel they just don't have enough time to make it happen. On the flip side, when leaders feel like things are not moving fast enough for their liking they may make rushed changes, that end up failing.

There was a rotating door of doctors, interns and administrators in Grey's Anatomy who were hired quickly and in most cases had good skills, but were not the right culture fit for the organization. They ended up slowing down the desired changes due to the conflict that ensued. In real life, knowing how much time has to be committed to make a change or hire effective can be daunting. Rushing things (like the character hires on the show) can make things worse, and draw out the change even longer.

Understanding the effects of time on your change effort can help remove some of the barriers to making it happen. Rather than seeing time as a complicating factor, you can learn to use it to your advantage when going through a major change.

I often share with students in our emotional intelligence workshops that once you get through the EQ program, you will scrutinize many things in your life through the lens of EQ. My EQ glasses were on for my night of Grey's Anatomy, unfortunately for my daughter. From now on, I think we'll have to find other activities to share together this summer vacation.

About the Author

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Jennifer Stanford is a sought-after Trust Coach and the CEO of Emergent Performance Solutions, as well as an author and speaker. Her entrepreneurial spirit, combined with years of practical experience gives her specialized insight into business and psychology.

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