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  • Sue Schleifer

Fuel and Frictions


On my walk today I listened to Shankar Vedantam interview organizational psychologist Loran Nordgren on The Hidden Brain podcast. They discussed ideas from Nordgren and Schonthal’s recent book, The Human Element: Overcoming the Resistance that Awaits New Ideas.

As I listened, it occurred to me that one of the reasons I love my work as a coach is that I get to help people explore the frictions in their lives and in their organizations. Frictions are the invisible forces or impediments that hold us back. Through my questions and our curiosity, my client comes up with solutions to minimize or cut through the frictions. This leads to positive changes.

In a work situation, you may have an idea for a new program or product. You wonder why your colleagues or customers aren’t buying into it. So you put on more “fuel”: you try to increase the emotional appeal of the idea by adding features and incentives, and by presenting data and evidence to get people on board. Nordgren describes how an online furniture company, which had many users on their website who spent hours customizing their orders, struggled to understand why the potential customers didn’t end up buying the couch.

They called in a consultant who did an ethnographic assessment of these reluctant customers. They discovered that the customers didn’t know what to do with their old couch, so they didn’t complete the sale. Once the company offered to take away the old couch, their sales exploded. Such a simple solution. Getting rid of the old couch was the “friction” that prevented the sale.

To discover the frictions in our own lives and our organizations requires discovery and perspective-taking. What is going on for the staff? What might our customers be experiencing? What is holding me back from getting started on writing a new play? (More on that in a future newsletter.)

These ideas can also be used in relationships at work and at home. It turns out removing negatives in relationships is more important than increasing positives. I have heard clients say, “I made dinner and brought home flowers (fuel) and then the next night we got in another argument!”

Research shows that negative experiences carry greater weight, psychologically and emotionally, than positive experiences by 5 to 1. Nice moments you experience in a relationship are not balanced by negative experiences because the negative carries much more weight. This is why paying attention to the friction in a relationship is so important. Look for the behaviors and actions where each person feels a “rub.” Then come up with ways to practice reducing those frictions.

Be kind, listen to one another, and try out a couple of simple ways to eliminate the friction. You may be surprised by the results.