Top dogs and under dogs fighting for control. Sounds a bit like the intro to a Tarrentino movie but it’s actually a comment on our psyche. Gestaltists, Freudians, Kleinians: almost doesn’t matter what school of psychology or psychotherapy you come from, agree with or study all of them highlight an essential split in our natures.

Part of us is logical, planful and controlling, likes to be at the surface and visible to others and is (most of them time) where we’re talking from when we use the word I or me in a sentence. That’s your Top Dog right there. Sounds superior doesn’t it? Able to control and direct? Not a chance.

Facing it, beneath it, surrounding it are our desires, needs, passions, wants. All of the things that we secretly crave or desire. All of the things that have emotional impact and weight. That’s your Under Dog, and 9 times out of 10 it will win in any decision or confrontation with your logical inner self.

Easy enough to grasp at the individual level but these forces also play out on the organisational stage, and are why so many change programmes in the corporate world falter. When we deal with others in any sort of number we naturally assume that the group we are facing are logical and will follow a predictable pattern in their behaviour. That we can predict them. That our combined Top Dogs are in control. Guess again.

Behavioural Economics has a lot to say about this that I think is right. We are not logical, planned individuals who then make up predictable groups. We’re bundles of random impulses and drives that are difficult to understand no matter how close you look (think of the difference between Newtonian and Quantum physics and you’ll get what I mean). Change programmes that fail to take into account this emotionally charged aspect to our decision making and compliance with a code of behaviour will fail, because they’re talking to the wrong part of us.

That’s why change needs to happen at the individual level. People need to buy into it and understand what it means for them, how they behave and what they have to do. And they need to work this out for themselves, you can’t tell them, or, as I’ve already mentioned in a previous post they resist.

Essentially we do what we please in life. Trick is to get a group of people who, underneath all of the pretence, actually want the same thing. That’s called common purpose and instilling it is at the heart of successful change.

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