Practice Development Counsel

Phyllis weiss haserot
Phyllis weiss haserot

President & Founder

212 593-1549

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The Change Mindset: Stretching Beyond The Comfort Zone

July, 2005

I frequently hear management at professional service firms despair that their colleagues resist change – and give up the efforts to persuade them to change. It is human nature for the majority of the population not to like change (though there are people that thrive on it). However, the obstacles are behavioral, not a matter of core personality. Maxwell Maltz, originator of the theory of “self-image psychology,” thinks reluctance to try and do new things relates to our “comfort zones.” Let's start with a few of his definitions.

  • Comfort Zone: the range of experience, behavior, or performance that we perceive as consistent with our self image.
  • Attitudes: established ways of thinking.
  • Habits: established ways of doing.

Maltz said that habits and attitudes are equally difficult to change, and changing them requires a strong shot of consciousness, motivation and hard work on a sustained basis. So someone has to get them to stretch beyond their comfort zones, which they cling to for fear that they can't learn something new or do something they are unaccustomed to, that they can't measure up, or that it seems out of character with the self-image they have constructed for themselves.

Another side of “comfort” I see as an obstacle is the feeling that there is no need to change because things are “good enough.” This may be an even tougher challenge for leaders or managers that see the need for change in order to reach agreed upon goals. It can be a point of conflict when an organization contains a mix of cultures, whether from a merger, the environment in different office locations or business units, or other circumstances.

Here are some techniques and tips to achieve that stretch to change.

  • Help people visualize working in new ways and involve them in the process of how that will happen. That will help them take ownership for the success of change.
  • Introduce change in manageable bits that achieve small stretches beyond the comfort zone. An analogy is walking slowly into the ocean rather than plunging in.
  • Make coaching available as support to prevent people from slipping back to the old comfortable ways. It takes time to create new habits, acclimate to them, and abandon old ones. Studies show that coaching is at least four times more effective than training alone.
  • After a reasonable transition time, remove the ability to go back to the old ways. Depending on what the desired change is, the transition time will be short or longer. Sometimes the enforcement of change needs to be backed by compensation incentives to help motivate desired behaviors.


These steps have been proven to work in a variety of situations. However, strong, committed leadership is necessary. Change won't happen if people get mixed signals from a management team .They must be both cheerleading and guiding by example.

© Phyllis Weiss Haserot, 2005. All rights reserved.