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By David Harder on February, 22, 2017

How To Kill Change On-The-Spot

Yesterday, we published an introduction regarding how we use four “filters” to kill off change. All of these filters are driven by fear of change. The first one is cynicism. I’m sure we can find that in our culture. It is the filter we use to slowly talk us out of taking action, shield ourselves from growth; cynicism is all around us and we start diffusing its power through self-inquiry and simply pointing it out.


Today, let’s take a look at the most violent filter of all: Contempt


We call this one the “assassination filter.” When someone is particularly frightened by change or transparency, he or she often uses a distilled version of cynicism to in order to kill progress and change on-the-spot.


Webster Dictionary’s definition of contempt makes the point: “The feeling that a person or a thing is beneath consideration, worthless, or deserving scorn: he showed his contempt for his job by doing it very badly.” I often tell leaders that if people come after you with contempt, they are more than just fearful, they are terrified.


We often find contempt is heaped on anyone who threatens our cherished routines or way of life. A few years ago, poet and performance artist Gary Turk created a video called “Look Up,” which quickly went viral. It shows two alternate scenarios. One where a young man who is fixated on his cell phone misses the life he was meant to have. In the other version, he “looks up” and meets the love of his life. They marry, raise a family and he holds her hand in old age as she passes away. Turk’s performance piece is a rather eloquent message about what we lose when we “check-out” with our technology. To be clear, I don’t interpret his video as an attack on technology. Indeed, many are also using it to connect in meaningful ways with others. It is directed towards those of us who become so consumed by technology that we lose out on meaningful human interaction.


Clearly, Mr. Turk’s message sparked much contempt when you see some of the reactions.


“I don’t know who I find more galling – Gary Turk, who wrote this one-dimensional preachy fluff, or the millions of sheep sharing it on social media.”


“Thanks, Helen! Every time I read it, I just want to rip it apart line by line – I’m glad someone else has the energy to do so.”


When we have an entire team fall into cynicism about a change process, often the most domineering member of that team steps forward with a contemptuous point-of-view. This is the very indication that we need to educate, comfort and establish clear messages about our commitment to the change initiative. This also represents a time to point out what people stand to benefit if they get past the filter. People are not motivated much by demands and orders. People tend to move forward when they see their potential fulfilled expectations.


Here are a few suggestions about the filter contempt:


  • When contempt shows up on your team, it has to be addressed on the spot. Typically, the messages that display contempt are designed to get you to table an idea on the spot or to simply give up. Sit down with people individually and discuss where the energy is coming from. Intervene with each person. Reassure them. Take corrective action.
  • If you have a member of a team that displays contempt all of the time, either get them to correct the behavior or remove them as quickly as possible. In our engagement programs, these are commonly the people who self-select to leave due to a wrong fit. But, if you allow someone addicted to negativity to stay on the team, they will undermine progress.
  • If you are making a presentation or leading a meeting and someone interrupts you with contempt, tell them you will be happy to get together with them after the presentation or during a break to discuss his or her concerns. Don’t get into it from the front of the room.

Finally, it is always valuable to explore within ourselves how we practice contempt and examine why we do it. Modifying a time-honored phrase, “Contempt is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die,”


There are far better ways to use our time.


Brought to you by David Harder, President – Inspired Work, Inc. (310) 277-4850

(C) Copyright, Inspired Work, Inc. – 2017 – (All rights reserved)