The Dark Side of Change - Part 2

By Mark Buchan | 1 September 2015

In the previous part of this article I finished by talking about resistance to change, this brings up another topic as we begin to understand more about how people respond to change.

Change and emotion

For each and every change we go through we will experience some degree of ambivalence towards the change in question.  I often express it this way: a part of you wants the change and another part of you doesn’t.  So a tension exists between these two (internalised) states when these two parts are in conflict to each other.   You might experience this as a healthy tension as the two parts tussle to get their needs met.  Or the experience may be more extreme depending on the gravity of the change in question.   The point being though that there is some emotional response to the change and we may or may not be aware of this sensation or feeling.  This emotional response colours the way we perceive and think about things.  You can quite easily imagine that the situation amplifies and takes on another dynamic when the change is externalized and involves other people and their personalities. People have (natural) emotional responses when confronted with a change; but what if this change is perceived in some way as a threat as well?

Dark Dramas

Opposition to change appears in the form of what I refer to as Dark Dramas. In short a dark drama is a continued and extended (over a period of time) set of interactions, that are considered to be less than kind and compassionate towards others.   For a drama to be effective their needs to be three parts played: the persecutor, the victim and the rescuer.

Now I’d like to stop for a moment and engage with you in an experiment. Think of James Bond for a moment.  Hold that thought for a moment:freeze-frame if you will …. What is James

Dark dramas are evoked when people are confronted with change and the behaviours exhibited during this time are often destructive and counter productive to the change as demonstrated in a large engineering organisation where I worked in my.  In my early days as a consultant it was part of my role to address the change communities with whom we would be working.  Now these guys were engineering guys, blue-collar workers who were heavily unionized and totally against change.  My organizational sponsor gave me a warning ahead of the session that I was likely to be hijacked by Peter, one of the more vocal members of the group.  As predicted it didn’t take Peter long to perceive an easy target for what could only be considered a tirade of abuse.  Once Peter had stopped to gather his breath for round 2, I politely and firmly requested to park his concerns temporarily which he was gracious enough to do.  It was at that moment that Peter had invited me to play along in his script of “how things have always been this way”.  My response to his invitation is so important at this point because I can be pulled into his drama and become a coconspirator in keeping him stuck. For instance I might have chosen to play the offended one: “How could you? I am only here trying to help you …” But this passive victim response will only encourage more of the same behaviour as I would be handing power and control over to Peter. Alternatively I could do “Angrily Offended” and could self-righteously victimize Peter, but that as well invites more of the same behaviour.  What we decide to do and how to respond is invariably determined by our thinking and feeling towards the other person.  In this drama I could have chosen to see Peter’s anger as something directed at me personally; however the view I was taking was that I was a mere projection upon which Peter could “release tension” from the anxiety that building up around all these changes from.  I chose not to see his anger as destructive or disrespectful, in fact quite the opposite.  Anger is a healthy and justifiable emotion but people    working  between group or team members within their organisation. 

Our Drama’s stir up emotions
Dealing with dark emotions
Being courageous and making a stand


As an emotion this is one of the most powerful emotions as long as the anger is channeled appropriately. Again mindset is important; you need to be able to accept that anger is OK; however how someone choses to deal with their anger may not be ok and may overstep a boundary. Having authentic conversations about how we talk to each other always helps.   However if you are not able to have a heart-to-heart, warts and all conversation then you might find the perceptual positions exercise a useful one as you begin to put yourself more and more in the shoes of the other.

Pride and Vanity

Resolution comes in the form of healthy release.
Validating peoples feelings so that they really feel heard.
People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
The way to change an emotion is to move
Breaking the state

It is a rather ugly form of the “them and us” patterns being acted out.

Of course you may or may not be aware of the all the many conflicts that are ongoing in your life, you are conscious of some more than others.  The level of awareness you will have will depend on the intensity of emotion that you experience as a result of the conflict. (again awareness here is key).

Conflict is natural

Many people spend their careers avoiding conflict, seeking to always please others

When taken to the root cause each part of you values something different; for instance you may be torn about doing overtime because on the one hand you feel you would be letting the team down by going home early or on the other hand letting the family down by missing dinner – again.  In this example the values of family and team are in direct opposition to each other.  The intensity of the conflict depends on how important it is.  If some important need (value) isn’t being met then do expect some opposition.

Personalities of the dark triad Personae  - the narcicist, the terrorist/psychopath, the schemer/politiker

Bumping up against the personalities of the dark triad


Many of you may be familiar with some of the descriptions that I present here as they are often embodied within people in our organissation.  When change comes knocking on their door they tend to respond to change with dark behaviours that can be categorized into three areas.* 

The narcissist:  someone who is overly preoccupied with themselves; they seek admiration and adulation; no fear of them being “left on the shelf” because they are in love with themself.  They find it hard to sustain meaningful relationships.

The Schemer: someone who practices in Machiavellian behaviours in order to get their way.  The politik their way through the organisation building power and playing people off one another..  Games of one-upmanship. Appearances are deceptive and the schemer will always be aware of how they are being perceived. Great thinkers going 5-10 moves in advance of their opponent to try and get their way.

The psychopath:  You will need no warning to be aware of people who rank high on the psychopathy scale.  These people feel no guilt or remorse so normal negative reinforcement that keep “normal” people from performing immoral activities doesn’t happen for these individuals. Worse yet, positive reinforcement is gained from performing immoral activities or watching the suffering of others. In short they feel no empathy either.

*If you are interested there is a most interesting piece of research ongoing into this area – if you would like to take the test to measure for these dark traits you can go to this website

Exposing the ugly truths in organisations

When their power, influence and ability to control is threatened then they will turn to dark side behaviours to get their way.  In

Like all good dramas you need characters.  Enter the persecutor, rescuer and victim.  Each of these people have a script … help me to create the script.  Now play into that the endorphins and adrenaline along with all the other naturally produced chemical highs and very soon people are addicted.  What keeps these people stuck in these traps are the following:

Habit:  people are predictable, some might say irrationally predictable, but people will invariably do what they have always done unless they have a compelling reason to do otherwise.  Breaking a habit takes time effort motivation perseverance discipline and that’s a lot of work.  Cant we just do like we’ve always done?  Our brains are wired specifically to follow habits – automatically – which leads us to the next issue

Our behaviour is automatic:  if repeated often enough we can respond subconsciously, without thinking (consciously)

Our behaviour is subconsciously driven:  we may not be aware of how our mind has “made itself up” to do one thing or another.  We may keep ourselves from looking in the mirror because maybe we know that we will have to change.  Denial is an importance defence mechanism that we could spend much time talking about and often we keep the elephant well and truly outside of the room.

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