Looking To The Future

By Chris Chittenden

One of human beings' unique qualities is that we have a focus towards the future. When we listen to the conversations that people have about how they view the future, we notice that they tend to speak in two distinct ways. We term these orientations "Moving Away" and "Moving Towards" and they refer to an underlying desire to avoid certain things or to create things in the future. When we listen to what individuals say about the future, we often find that they have a preference for one or the other.

These orientations are generally accompanied by significantly different moods and actions and as such provide a very strong framework in which to deal with change. A "Moving Away" orientation has a focus on what we don't want. People with such an orientation tend to be looking at the future with a critical eye for anything that looks like the things that they wish to avoid. As a result, their mood tends to be a negative one. For many people, that mood coupled with a hint of a future they wish to avoid, then predisposes them to a critical view of the people who are proposing that future. Given that moods are contagious, conversations that are too focussed on "Moving Away" also tend to generate negative moods in the others involved.

A "Moving Away" orientation also creates a situation where people may know what they don't want but not what they do want. Hence people with this predisposition tend to focused on avoidance rather than creation and as such get stuck retelling the story of what they don't want that is based in the past. This leads to a sense of "stuckness" and inaction.

A "Moving Towards" orientation is about creating something specific in the future. Conversations with a "Moving Towards" focus tend to be more energised and create a positive mood for action to achieve specific goals. As a result, we tend to develop a group mood that encourages innovation and a willingness to embrace change.

The predominance of one or the other orientation has significant implications in terms of change management where those implementing the change are seeking to motivate people to create a new environment or way of doing things. People with a sense of "Moving Away" know what they don't want but struggle to articulate what they do want. The key for people in change management and leadership roles is to listen to conversations that have a "Moving Away" orientation and reframe them into a "Moving Towards" conversation.

These orientations also have a role in giving performance feedback. A "Moving Away" orientation will predispose the person giving the feedback to focus on the behaviours and outcomes they do not want to see. This has a greater potential for the person receiving the feedback to feel punished and not have a sense of how what new behaviours they need to adopt. On the other hand, a "Moving Towards" orientation will lead to clearer requests about future behaviour and outcomes and be much more likely to result in improved performance.

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© 2001 Chris Chittenden