The simple way to cut barriers down to size

Posted by on Aug 7, 2017

barriers to change

If you’re facing a big barrier in your workplace, something that’s blocking your path forward, slow down and take a closer look.

That insurmountable obstacle might really be a manageable speed bump.

I experienced this in a literal sense when jogging on my favorite wooded trail recently. Everything was going fine until – what?! A newly fallen tree blocked the path.

The tree trunk looked so out of place in sideways form. Big, too – too big to climb over. So I turned around and retraced my steps.

A week later, I followed my usual route. I had forgotten about the fallen tree until – what?! There it was again, still blocking the path. I turned around around and headed the other way.

Bet you can guess what happened the third week. Yep, I ran the same old route – and was surprised all over again by the fallen tree.

But this time, instead of staring at the tree and being daunted by its presence, I looked left and right to find a way around. It took maybe a minute to push through the brush, along the trunk line, where I found a lower section. I climbed over and continued running, leaving that once-insurmountable barrier in the dust.

So what the heck happened? Why did I bow to the barrier those first two times? And what does this tell us about our workplace barriers?

For starters, the fallen tree was totally unexpected. After years of running in those woods, I had grown accustomed to every natural feature. It came as a shock to see an enormous tree lying on its side across the usually peaceful path – and the surprise seemed to fill all my thinking, to the point where I didn’t even consider going over or around.

The second time, it had more to do with repetition. I had turned around after the first encounter, so I did it again without thinking. It seemed like the path of least resistance.

That third time, I was no longer surprised by the sight. Nor was I so reflexive about turning around. I took time for a better look, studying the tree and terrain to check my options. The trunk seemed to get thinner on the right, and the brush seemed passable. So that’s where I went. Problem solved.

Perhaps you’re pushing for some sort of change at work, but you’ve encountered a barrier. You didn’t expect it. Now you’re at a standstill. You’re tempted to give up.

But wait – take a fuller look. Assess the situation. Think through your options. It’ll take some extra work as you improvise and try different things, but that big barrier will get a lot smaller.

A friend of mine had been all excited about a new training program she wanted to bring to her workplace. Then she pitched it to her boss’s boss’s boss – who reacted with all the animation of a fallen log.

The encounter rattled my friend. All she could talk about was the obstructionist higher-up who had no vision. She considered giving up on the new training.

But she persisted, with some adjustments. She talked with colleagues to learn more about that seeming log of a leader. She discovered that he loved metrics, especially financial measures like return on investment. He also like bullet points and brevity.

So she retooled her presentation and reapproached.

The second meeting took only ten minutes, but the log proved to be a real person. He asked questions. My friend had answers. The exchange turned into conversation.

A week later, the training got approved.

The program is now up and running, with my friend leading the way.


By Tom TerezContact