Lynn Schoener 
July 25th, 2013 
Lynn Schoener
As a
coach and consultant to organizations in transition, I work with leaders to develop coaching cultures and  improve employee satisfaction, team performance, and engagement.  My coaching work with individuals is designed to help them through...Read More
Immunity to Change


In the last three coachNotes, I have attempted to come at a powerful coaching process called "Immunity to Change" in a playful way. As I told the tale of a Martian observing and reporting on my (lack of) decluttering efforts, I introduced "ITC" lingo and rationale. In this note, I'll provide additional perspective as an active practitioner of ITC, and link you to resources which will, step by step, describe how to expose your coachees to the "virus" of goal-getting behavior.

In their 2009 book "Immunity to Change," which is stocked in the Church library in the coaching section, Harvard professors and authors Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey unpack the research behind our confusing, yet fierce commitment to protecting ourselves from positive change. Why, beyond the obvious reasons of lethargy and habit, do we strive to keep things "status quo," even when we know the change we seek will make us happier and healthier? They answer that mysterious "why" and offer a deceptively simple question set to help us crack our resistance code.

Below you'll find a link to a short article which describes the ITC steps in a simple, straightforward way, followed by a link to an Immunity Map Worksheet, or X-Ray, that you can use to guide your coachees through the ITC process:

For an insider's perspective on the process (and extra credit!), check out this last link to an article written by a reporter who participated in an "Immunity to Change" workshop, led by Kegan and Lahey:

This article is longer, but the examples and explanations within are more robust. The writer also does a better job of describing the last step: designing experiments to test the Big Assumption. I found this helpful:


"They urge us to reframe our fears in the context of the "big assumptions" that underlie them-ideas we take for granted about the way the world works and our place in it. Our parents convey to us their understanding of life, Kegan and Lahey explain, and we often take their opinions as fact. For Peter, the belief that needed to be challenged was: "If I want something done right, I have to do it myself." Kegan and Lahey throw out other examples to our group, assumptions like "If I say no, I'll lose people's friendship and respect" or "If I paid attention to my appetite, I'd never stop eating."

Please make this note about experiments: they cannot fail. They always tell you something important about what happens, or doesn't, how people react, or don't, and what you think and how you feel when you conduct them. And what's more, in the ITC process, experiments work at an unconscious level. Even when it seems that no change is happening which you can measure, your immune system is being inundated with data that the original threat, if it was ever real, no longer exists. When those protective efforts, however well-meaning, are shown to be actually working against you, immunity erodes and change flows.

It is stressful to the psyche to live outside of integrity, and the ITC experiments intensify this disconnect. It's awkward to sidestep the accountability conversation with others, but it takes very fancy footwork to explain and defend yourself to yourself, again and again. Our actions are always perfectly aligned to get the results we get. Maintaining the fantasy that we can act against our goals and still achieve them drains away precious mental, emotional, and even physical energy.

A good coach won't guilt or sell me into compliance with my decluttering goal. I get to choose which of my competing commitments to honor, and a coach can use ITC to help me clarify what those choices actually are. Otherwise, I work against myself, in servitude to an unseen force, and increasingly frustrated by what I mistake for weakness, laziness, or self-sabotage. If, in the end, my stronger pull is not to declutter, but to accumulate the ultimate information warehouse, at least I am conscious of it, and I can release and redirect my energy and attention to another goal that has less of a stronghold established in my emotional landscape.

But here's the thing...I think it may be working!

I suggest you start ITC with yourself, coach, and support your fellow coaches in the design and implementation of your experiments. Let me know how it goes, and I will share snapshots along my decluttering road in September.


Enjoy your mystery guest coachNoter in the month of August!


Copyright 2013 by Lynn Schoener



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