6 Brain Barriers to Healthy Church Change

Healthy change is necessary for any church, ministry, or business to thrive. However, leaders often run into invisible brain barriers when they attempt change. Ignoring them can slow or stonewall a change. Since neuroscientists are now rapidly learning amazing new insights about the brain, it behooves us to learn about how our brains respond to change. The next time you plan a change initiative, consider how you might lessen the effects of these brain barriers that can stifle healthy church change.

6 Brain Barriers that Stifle Healthy Church Change

  1. Brain Barrier 1: Undoing a bad impression is harder than creating a good one. It’s the “you don’t have a second chance to make a good first impression” adage. Neuroscientists have found that to be true. It’s not just an old wives’ tale (Lount et al., 2008). Poorly introduced change will start your change on the wrong footing.
  2. Brain Barrier 2: People initially assume the worst. Your brain is wired to pick up the negative more than the positive. In fact, 2/3 of the brain cells in the flight-fight part of your brain, the amygdala, are wired to pick up on what’s wrong rather than on what’s right (Hanson, 2010). Our brains have a built-in negativity bias. People will initially latch onto potential negatives of your change rather than onto the positives.
  3. Brain Barrier 3: The brain can only handle so much change at once. Trying to create too much change too quickly increases the brain’s fear response and will hinder that change (Hemp, 2009).
  4. Brain Barrier 4: People will fill in knowledge gaps about your change with fear. Change causes uncertainty about the future which in turn breeds fear. And when the brain senses fear, it doesn’t like it. It will act out of that fear which dampens the brain’s ability to think clearly. The less information you provide about your change initiative, the more others will fill in the knowledge gaps with their negative assumptions. As a result, they’ll be more fearful and more resistant to change.
  5. Brain Barrier 5: People underestimate their ability to weather difficult future events (Wilson & Gilbert, 2005). Uncertainty causes us to poorly forecast how well we can face the difficulties that changes might bring. The term is called “affective forecasting.” When you present change, others will often initially assume that life will be worse for them because of your change.
  6. Brain Barrier 6: Emotions play a significant role in decision-making and influence how well others will embrace change. Just presenting facts about your change without engaging positive and hopeful emotions about the future will seldom move it forward.

What barriers have you seen from others when you’ve introduced change?

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References:

Hanson, R. (2010) Confronting the Negativity Bias [Internet]. Available from: <http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/your-wise-brain/201010/confronting-the-negativity-bias> [Accessed 31 January 2013].

Hemp, P. (2009) Death by Information Overload – Harvard Business Review [Internet]. Available from: <http://hbr.org/2009/09/death-by-information-overload/ar/1> [Accessed 20 March 2013].

Lount, R.B., Zhong, C.-B., Sivanathan, N. & Murnighan, J.K. (2008) Getting Off on the Wrong Foot: The Timing of a Breach and the Restoration of Trust. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34 (12), pp.1601-1612.

Wilson, T.D. & Gilbert, D.T. (2005) Affective Forecasting. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 14 (3), pp.131-134.

Neuro-diversity in Your Church: Why it Matters

Diversity in the church is big today. With greater globalization and the desire to melt racial barriers, many pastors want their churches to become ethnically diverse. Many pastors intentionally seek to create such diversity through staffing, who gets on the worship teams, and who becomes the face of the church from the stage or on their web site. I laud that desire. However, I many have unintentionally limited my definition of diversity to ethnicity or language and missed one huge area of diversity that already exists in every church: neurodiversity. What do I mean when I say neurodiversity? Simply this.

Neurodiversity means that people think and process information differently. Not everybody thinks like you or me. I think more linearly, logically, and left brained. As a result, my preaching, leading, staffing, and volunteer selection has tended to reflect my thinking style. I may have unintentionally taught and led without taking into account that God gave us all unique thinking styles. I’m much wiser now and realize that I must take into account neurodiversity when I perform these pastoral functions.

Preaching and teaching: People learn differently and thus process teaching differently depending on their tendency as left-brained or right-brained. Below, I’ve contrasted a few left brained traits on the left with right brained traits on the right (notice how linear I am).

  • Process the familiar…process the novel
  • Detailed… holistic/big picture
  • Sequential…random
  • Logical…intuitive

If you want to read a great (and long) book on left brain vs right brain, read The Master and His Emissary by Ian McGilchrist. Also, here’s a great TEDvideo on the divided brain (over a million views).

Change management: People respond differently to change. Some people’s brain make-up makes them less fearful of change, and thus able adapt to it more quickly. Others perceive change as a huge threat and they dig their heels in to oppose it. (A great article on the 5 Fears of Change here.)

Encouraging healthy followership: Some will follow you simply because you present a compelling and logical reason to follow. Others will follow only when you move them emotionally.

Teams: If everybody on your team thinks like you, you can foster groupthink, when a team gets along so well or agrees so readily that nobody challenges ideas or the status quo. As a result, you can miss opportunities or even make poor choices. Susan Cain, author of one of the best books I’ve read in the past two years, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, talks about groupthink in this great article.

Every pastor who wants to move his church forward for Kingdom purposes should certainly seek to remove ethnic barriers to allow that church to be as diverse as God intends for it to become.

However, those in your church are already significantly diverse in one significant domain, neurodiversity. As you lead, teach, and develop others, heed and adapt to their diverse thinking and mental processing styles. You’ll become a more effective Kingdom leader.

Is this a new concept for you? How can you apply it to your church setting?


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8 Ways to Make Church Change Run Smoother

In your church you’re probably trying to bring change in some way or are contemplating it. Unfortunately, change in our churches often doesn’t go well. In fact, we’re not alone. In the business world some have estimating that the majority of organizational change either fails, underperforms, or makes things worse (Cope, 2003). I imagine that church change doesn’t fare much better. However, we don’t have to become a statistic. Consider 8 these insights the next time you try to bring change to your church, ministry, or organization.

8 Ways to Make Church Change Run Smoother

  1. Incorporate a change mentality into your church culture so that people don’t see it as a threat. The more you talk about, the less scary it becomes when it happens.
  2. Include change as a component in the church’s current strategy. When you create your annual goals and strategies, include a clearly defined component of change. Do this every year. Don’t make it a sporadic communication.
  3. Regularly teach on the Biblical basis of personal change so that change is more easily embraced. When training leaders, always include some component that teaches about change. Try to build change management into key staff and volunteers as a core competency.
  4. Help key players (staff, key volunteers, and church boards) embrace a philosophy of healthy change (see above). Seek to hire staff and recruit volunteers who aren’t change averse. When you recruit others, be sure to discuss their view about change and your expectations about it.
  5. Build forward thinking into the highest levels of your leadership conversations. Help leaders think about ways they can stay ahead of the change curve in culture rather than reacting to it when it inevitably comes.
  6. Involve as many people as reasonably possible into change initiatives. Give away small to medium-sized components of change to those lower on the leadership org chart. Get ownership as much as possible.
  7. Celebrate wins, both short and long-term ones. You can’t overdo this one.
  8. Reduce internal threat levels through building healthy relationships and a brain friendly working environment. Read this article that talks about what a brain friendly environment looks like. It’s based on the latest neuroscience research, a model called SCARF, an incredibly insightful way to build team collaboration and productivity.

In my most recent book, Brain-Savvy Leaders: the Science of Significant Ministry I devote an entire chapter to church change.

What has helped you create change in your church, ministry, or business?


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References:

Cope, M. (2003) The Seven Cs of Consulting [Internet]. Available from: <http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/355030.The_Seven_Cs_of_Consulting> [Accessed 2 March 2013].

7 Neuroscience Keys to Effective Performance Reviews

Annually in my 35 years in ministry I spend hours preparing and delivering multiple staff performance reviews. I was shocked to learn that I may have been wasting my time. In a meta-study (a study of the studies) researchers discovered that only 30% of feedback and performance reviews actually helped (Kluger & DeNisi,1996). They discovered that 30% have no impact and 40% actually make things worse, not a very good track record. Does that mean we should drop performance reviews? No. It does mean that we can improve the performance review process by incorporating 7 neuroscience keys in our reviews.

7 Neuroscience Keys that Improve Performance Reviews

I’ve divided the 7 C’s into these two categories.

  1. The person: issues that directly relate to the person who’s receiving the review and the reviewer as well.
  2. The process: issues that directly relate to the process itself.

The Person

  • Community: Make sure that the person receiving the review feels emotionally connected to you as much as possible. Try to build a sense of community with those you review (Ibarra, 1999).
  • Coachability:Before the review, help your staff develop a coaching/learner mentality. Help them see the value of feedback and reviews. The more value they see, the more positively they will receive it (Atwater & Brett, 2005).
  • Connected: Help the staff person connect the feedback she receives to how she sees herself in the future (Kluger & DeNisi, 1996) and to her larger goals (Ashford et al., 2003).

The Process

  • Credible: Make sure you as the supervisor are unbiased and fully informed about the staff person’s job and performance before the review (Waldman et al., 1998).
  • Coupled: This is key. You must couple the review to follow up, ideally through a coaching process. Build into the process action steps to address areas that need improvement, all with a developmental rather than a punitive tone. Also, couple the process to a teaching session before the review to help staff understand the review process and how to get the best from it.
  • Consistent: Make sure that the process elicits consistent feedback from all sources giving input to reviews (Ashford et al., 2003).
  • Collaborative: The more collaborative the process, the more effective it will be. If possible, include in the process peers, direct reports, and supervisors. (London & Smither, 1995).

Try applying some of these ideas the next time you do a staff review and see how it helps.

If you’d like to get a copy of a self-evaluation tool I’ve used, email me here. I give it to the staff person I’m to review first and ask them to fill it out before our actual review session. After they complete it and I’ve reviewed it, then we meet for the review.

What have you discovered that has helped your reviews improve performance?

In my most recent book, Brain-Savvy Leaders: the Science of Significant Ministry, I give many more leadership insights we learn from recent neuroscience findings.

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Motivate your Teams with these 4 Neuroscience Keys

Motivating staff and volunteers in your church is often as elusive as nailing Jell-O to a tree. Yet to move our churches from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’ we must motivate those around us. Often pastors use the same ‘carrot-and-stick’ approach the marketplace has used for decades. If you do such-and-such you will receive a reward (salary increase, pat on the back, etc). If you don’t, you’ll get something negative: you won’t receive the reward, you will have to step down, etc. We’re now learning that this approach does not work in the long term. However, neuroscience is discovering effective ways to motivate others based on how our brains work. Consider putting these four brain-based ideas into your motivation toolbox.

1. Build interpersonal likeability among team members.

This may seem like a no-brainer, but neuroscientists have discovered a brain-based reason to help your team like each other more. Performance increases when co-workers like each other (Shteynberg & Galinsky, 2011).

  • Leadership application: regularly use team building and social experiences to build common interests and community among your staff, board, and volunteers.

2. Encourage sharing of mistakes.

We all learn from our mistakes. However, some church environments discourage sharing them. We don’t want to look like failures. However, brain studies have discovered that when we observe how a friend (see point 1 above about likeability) learned from his mistake, we learn from it, just as if we ourselves made the same mistake. At the same time we are more open to receiving feedback about our mistakes from our friends (Kang et al., 2010). So the greater community you build, the more easily your team will learn from each other and receive feedback. Such relationships foster a “your mistakes are my mistakes” attitude. As Prov. 27.6 says, Wounds from a friend can be trusted….

  • Leadership application: set an example by sharing your mistakes and what you are learning from them and create an environment that makes it safe for others to share theirs.

3. Repeat the common “why” often and delegate the “how.”

Leaders must constantly seek answers to two key questions: “Why are we doing what we are doing?” and “How do we do it?” A common why (a shared goal: being on the same page), helps churches avoid silos and those same shared goals actually increase personal productivity (Shteynberg & Galinsky, 2011). Pastors should prioritize vision clarity as one of their top three roles, along with leadership development and teaching. When you pair a clear and shared why along with allowing your team to create the how, you will foster an atmosphere of personal freedom and autonomy, a key component for high performing teams (Rock, David & Cox, n.d.).

  • Leadership implication: Stay focused on keeping the why clear and allow staff and volunteers to develop the how.

4. Communicate using personality specific language.

Our brains process motivation in different ways. One study about motivating people to floss their teeth discovered that different sides of the brain light up in a scanner depending on how the message was communicated (Sherman et al., 2006). If a person is more motivated to avoid certain negative things (i.e., floss to avoid bad breath), avoidance type messages motivated them to floss more often. For those motivated more by an approach personality, (if I do such-and-such I will get something good: floss to get great breath), approach messages motivated them to floss more often.

  • Leadership implication: know your team well enough so you can tailor your messages to match personalities either as avoidance ones or as approach ones.

What has worked well to motivate your team?


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References:

Kang, S.K., Hirsh, J.B. & Chasteen, A.L. (2010) Your mistakes are mine: Self-other overlap predicts neural response to observed errors. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 46 (1), pp.229-232.

Rock, David & Cox, C. SCARF in 2012: updating the social neuroscience of collaborating with others. Neuroleadership Journal, (four).

Sherman, D.K., Mann, T. & Updegraff, J.A. (2006) Approach/Avoidance Motivation, Message Framing, and Health Behavior: Understanding the Congruency Effect. Motivation and emotion, 30 (2), pp.165-169.

Shteynberg, G. & Galinsky, A.D. (2011) Implicit coordination: Sharing goals with similar others intensifies goal pursuit. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 47 (6), pp.1291-1294.