What’s underneath stuckness?

Recently I was working with a group of senior managers and the issue of ‘stuckness’ in teams came up.

What do we mean by stuckness? It’s what happens to some of us during change. Rather than moving through the possible (and normal) shock, discomfort, overwhelm, disappointment, anger, resentment, frustration that can occur during change we get stuck. And it doesn’t feel good for anyone. Stuckness can evolve from frustration, resentment, anger to apathy, disengagement and negativity.

The managers shared some of the strategies they used to deal with a staff member they perceived to be stuck  – listening and reassuring the person, then reminding them how the change is happening and it’s time to get onboard. But in many cases, this did not make much difference to the person’s stuckness.

Most of us want to get onboard, be team players and enjoy our jobs. But stuckness can wedge deep and get in the way, hindering our ability to be the person we want to be in our role. But we often only deal with the surface issues – the emotions and behaviour most commonly noticed. Underneath these is something that has the potential to dislodge stuckness, and create a more conducive environment for people to take babysteps towards change.

What for me was missing from the manager’s perspective (and I shared with them) was curiosity. What’s underneath the surface emotions and complaints? When we have the time to sit with people and, from a place of compassionate curiosity, ask what their fears, concerns, worries and stresses are, initially we’ll hear the same as what’s been repeated so far. But go deeper, what’s underneath that? From that place, if there is enough trust and genuine connection, will be an individual’s values and needs and where those are being threatened or not being met.

Our values and needs run deep and are often left behind in conversations about change and transition. A team member who is concerned about a shift in organisational direction may be expressing genuine concerns about customer care. Which is part of their values, but underneath that might be a deeper concern about the impact on the future of culture and wellbeing.

During times of change, we need time. But we also need an opportunity to go underneath our surface-level emotions. Because validating, acknowledging and allowing what’s underneath often begins the tentative steps towards addressing the root cause of stuckness.

And being a manager who is comfortable with this level of uncovering and supporting requires courage, compassion and curiosity.

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