Anaklesis: The #1 barrier to managing, change and just about everything else

The single greatest barrier to effective management, change and collaboration is “anaklesis”: the very human, ingrained need we all have to rely (or “lean”) upon ideas or individuals.

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Humans do not resist change itself, nor do we avoid hard truths for the truth they contain. Rather we resist the pain of losing those things upon which we depend. We lean on habits, ideas and relationships as a form of control over our lives, and the fear of losing those is a barrier to personal and organizational growth. We refer to this as “anaklesis”.

Anaklesis was first identified by Sigmund Freud in the early twentieth century. Psychologists continued research on the topic through the mid-century when it was picked up by the management writer, Jerry Harvey, then the organizational consultant, Herb Koplowitz.

Anaklesis is like a dance: it occurs whenever two or more people come together with the natural, primary purpose of looking good and not stepping on each others’ toes. Rather than discussing tough issues, they begin the dance; the desire to be liked, to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings and to be seen as agreeable takes precedence.

Anaklesis is rampant in today’s organizations, where being “nice” is over-emphasized and strong relationships are valued over effective relationships. Many Managers will avoid tough conversations as a means of building trust and friendly relationships, when, in fact, it has the opposite effect.

The truth is, in order to learn and grow, you may need to step on some toes. If you’re going to trust people and have them trust you in return, you have to have the courage to engage in the tough conversations.


Think about the last 24 hours. Did you avoid confronting a colleague with a situation that you knew needed to be resolved? Did you choose not to engage that person to resolve it? Replay the instance in your mind and imagine what would have happened if you’d “laid your cards on the table”? What is the worst thing that could have happened? How likely was it? How could you, your team and your organization have benefited if the situation had been resolved?

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