AS HUMANS, DESPITE OUR COLLECTIVE TALENTS and knowledge, we all encounter challenges in our lives. Although one challenge may be greater than another, challenges create action, create impetus to change, to adapt, or employ patience or some other skill that allows us overcome them and to evolve beyond them.
Challenges can be physical, such as in making the basketball squad in your school or college (a challenge that is not subject to diplomacy: you either are good enough or not). Then there are emotional challenges, such as, involvement of the bereavement process (loss of a loved one) which may further invoke spiritual, religious, and intellectual challenges, i.e., consideration of creeds of worship or religious rites. Moreover, challenges can be social, and perhaps any combination of any of these. No matter the types of challenges, they create stress.
So what do you do then?
Well, some people exercise – to increase endurance; some people do sudoku or perhaps take a night class or online course. Whichever method utilized to combat stress, hopefully it works for you, but there is a pre-stress technique I would like you to be aware of which may allow you to affect a positive outcome in the face of certain social challenges. The technique, termed force-field analysis, comes to us from social-psychologist, Kurt Lewin.  Force-field analysis is used in business, collective-bargaining, and mediation. It can be employed by anyone who takes a few minutes to conduct such an analysis, and it is quite easy to remember. Force-Field Analysis, then, can be viewed like this:
In response to challenging stimuli, people will behave as resistant or encouraged to change – in relation to the adversity. There are 3 types of forces in any “field of controversy”. The first set of forces is called restraining forces – which aid ones resistance to change. Then, there are driving forces – which encourage change. Finally, there is the “inertia force” in the field, where both restraining and driving forces collide. The term force-field analysis is named for the insight used to devise strategies based on what is learned from competing forces in the field.
Let me clarify with an example:
You have been tasked with a project at work, this Friday afternoon, and due to the nature of your employment, are forced to work overtime. The project will likely add another 6-hours to your shift therefore you will certainly miss your son’s coveted playoff basketball match – one you promised to make. However, you realize that you could complete the extra work in around two-hours and still be able to keep your promise to your son if you could convince another colleague to also work overtime – which for any one of them – is not mandatory. After your initial inquiries nobody is convinced to stay late. There is one lead who seemed promising, but she had voiced concerns about additional pay for the babysitter, and was not sure she could afford to cover an extra 3-hours considering she has already exceeded her monthly budget expenditures.
A Force-Field Analysis for this scenario would look like this:
In this situation, without the analysis, it looks as if you will miss your son’s senior basketball game and you will have broken a promise to him. However, a close analysis provides hope. If you are able to introduce an additional driving force (money) it might act upon your colleagues resistance. Offers to cover the babysitter out-of-pocket, and/or perhaps order a take-out meal to reinvigorate your colleague’s energy stores, or you might offer to baby sit for free a few nights, so your colleague could get a night on the town at some point in the future? Whatever course you choose, the answer lies in the creativity you attach to your analysis of the forces at play. This technique not only works well in business and in mediation-type arenas, you might discover that it can be used to see many kinds of challenges from a clearer perspective, thus, overcome resistance to behaviors you wish to modify.
I hope this was helpful. May the force be with you. 😉
1. Lewin, K. (1951) Field Theory in Social Science, New York: Harper and Row
2. Simple guides to carry out force field analysis, with examples in management, see: http://www.mindtools.com/forcefld.html.