The Discomfort Zone: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: November 4th, 2014 by bobmorris

Discomfort ZoneThe Discomfort Zone: How Leaders Turn Difficult Conversations Into Breakthroughs
Marcia Reynolds
Berrett-Koehler (2014)

If you are not in a positive discomfort zone, get a different map and compass.

I read and reviewed Marcia Reynolds’ previous book, Wander Woman: How High-Achieving Women Find Contentment and Direction (2010), and then interviewed her. She has a keen interest in interactive relationships between and among people who are struggling to cope with a world in which change is the only constant, especially7 now when change happens more often and faster than at any prior time that I can remember. She has an insatiable curiosity to understand what works, what doesn’t, and (especially) why. Over the years, she has helped leaders in countless companies to create and then sustain a workplace culture within which personal growth and professional development are most likely to thrive.

In her latest book, The Discomfort Zone, she shares her thoughts about how to thrive during moments of uncertainty when people are most receptive to learn. As Reynolds explains, “In order to define who we are and make sense of the world around us, our brains develop [or embrace] constructs and rules we strongly protect without much thought. This is what James O’Toole has in mind when suggesting, in Leading Change, that the strongest resistance to change tends to be cultural in nature, the result of what he so aptly characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.” What to do? Reynolds: “To help people think differently, you have to disturb the automatic processing. This is best done by challenging the beliefs that caused the frames and surfacing the underlying fears, needs, and desires that are keeping the constructs in place.” My other rather extensive experience which change initiatives convinced me that those lead them must take into full account a powerful but unspoken question that most people have: “What’s in it for me?”

These are among the major subjects and issues that Reynolds addresses:

o What a discomfort zone is and why it can be beneficial
o The best circumstances in which to have a discomfort zone conversation
o What differentiates a discomfort zone conversation from others
o Five myths about a workplace and what in fact is true
o Keys to effective listening
o How what you hear can help to guide and inform your response
o How to use discomfort conversations to avoid or overcome communication barriers
o How to use discomfort conversations to “embrace what’s next”
o How to leverage what is learned from interactions within the discomfort zone

The approach that Reynolds recommends is research-driven, one that takes into full account the realities that now exist in a global marketplace but also the basics of human nature that have remained true since an incident long ago when a serpent engaged a woman in conversation about apples in a garden. Toxic leaders create and sustain discomfort zones that depress, discourage, and demoralize those within them. Obviously, that’s not what Marcia Reynolds has in mind. The leaders she most admires are those who create and then sustain a workplace environment within which personal growth and professional development are most likely to thrive.

In fact, all organizations need leadership at all levels and in all areas throughout the given enterprise. There are almost unlimited opportunities every day for everyone to convert interactive encounters — conversations that are uncomfortable for them as well as for others — into breakthroughs that improve communication, cooperation, and — especially — collaboration.

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