Responses to change
In your journey down life’s many highways and byways, in addition to deciding which tempting twists and turns in the road to take you will also be beset by the odd confrontation with the unexpected surprise or two. These may be as welcome as a win on the lottery, or as unwelcome as being bitten on the bum by a baboon. Either way, if you live to tell the tale it will be a test of your true mettle as to how you respond to what is foisted upon you by Fortuna, “The Bitch Goddess of Unpredictability” (Gabriel, 2003).
A change can be good or bad, desired or completely unwanted, started by yourself, or imposed on you by others or circumstances. Whatever the case, it is never easy to deal with. But, you can learn to understand it, deal with it, AND respond to it.
There are some basic emotional responses to change: shock, denial, distrust; anger and guilt; bargaining; depression, anxiety and stress; regret; and finally, acceptance (Based on Elizabeth Kubler Ross, on Death and Dying, 1969). See the ‘Response to Change’ diagram below. As it appears in the picture, it can be an emotional roller coaster that lasts over a period of time. It’s not always the case that these phases follow on from each other in such an orderly fashion – they can be messier. But as a rule, the general pattern experienced is as the picture suggests.
In response to a negative change, we can talk about:
– Immobilization: you experience shock and confusion
– Denial: you ignore the changes or its consequences
– Anger: based on your feelings of frustration and hurt
– Bargaining: you seek to minimize the impact of the change… this signals the beginning of acceptance
– Depression: you may perceive the situation as beyond your control and display lack of energy or interest
– Testing: you start to see new ways where you can regain some measure of control, test new ways of coping with new reality
– Acceptance: you fully accept change although you may not like it
· Thinking about your most difficult recent experience of change, reflect on the blue picture to talk about each aspect of your response to the change
· Did you go through each stage? Sequentially or otherwise?
· Can you give examples of how you felt at each stage and how you responded to those feelings or how you dealt with your own experience of each stage?
· If you experienced each aspect of such responses to change again, what might you do to deal with them better?
· Do you think it is possible to prepare for such responses?
Can you monitor your own response to change?
If you can monitor it, can you self-treat?
Even if it hits you like a truck?
Being positive about change
‘Those who are always learning are those who can ride the waves of change and who see a changing world as full of opportunities not damages. They are the ones most likely to be survivors in a time of discontinuity. They are also the enthusiasts and the architects of new ways and forms and ideas.’ Handy, 1990
Some things you can do along the way…
– Establish what will change and what will stay the same
– Get involved with the change – the more you stay outside the change the more it will feel like something being done to you. Ask yourself how you can increase your involvement in the change.
– Allow yourself to go through some kind of grieving… try to name what has ended… ask yourself: “what will I miss the most?”
o Q: What has ended? What is ending? What will end? What will you miss the most?
– Celebrate the ending, just like funerals help survivors realise the person is gone so will doing something to celebrate and mark the end of a past.
o Q: Any ideas?
– When YOU are ready, prepare for a new beginning.
o Q: How far away do you feel you are from starting to think about new beginnings? What might you do to prepare for that?
Some really positive responses for when you are ready:
Apply creativity, ingenuity and resourcefulness to resolving problems or issues
View some of today’s disruptions as the basis for tomorrow’s new possibilities
Stop running from the unexpected
When ready: “start taking responsibility for architecting the future”
o Q: What would you like your life to look like? Can you imagine a different life, especially with regards to any key issues? How would it look? Describe it as though you can see it and it is already there…
What to expect soon :
– New beginnings
o Q: Maybe as the new you? :-))
– (The official new start and the psychological beginning are 2 different processes)
– A new beginning can feel daunting, similar to a response to a positive change
– You can wonder ‘is it real or not?’
– The new is unknown – what will it take to be successful?
– It is normal to feel doubts at this stage and sometimes to experience a dip in confidence until the new situation becomes clear
o Q: If you feel fear, or doubts, about such new beginnings, how might a ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ attitude help? What other tangible things could you do to prepare yourself for a dip in confidence? Might it be enough to expect it and ride the storm?
Getting help in the new beginnings stage:
– Talk to supportive friends and family
o Q: Who could this include?
– Plan, gather information, imagine, visualise, think and prepare…
– Ask each other to imagine a typical successful day in the new set-up… “What would be happening?”
o Q: Describe day to day in your ideal world…
Some good one-liners:
– Change is inevitable but temporary (‘this too shall pass’)
– There are natural emotional and psychological responses to change
– Understanding the change process helps demystify it
– Change is not happening TO YOU… you can MANAGE the change
– Support is needed for going through a change – ask for it and give that support to others
I’d love to hear from you here in comments or you can tweet me @cazzwebbo to relate any of your responses to negative or positive change. Does any of the above resonate with you ? Or do you have another perspective to share ?
For some further personal, reflective reading, you might want to consider: Galpin, Timothy J. The Human Side Of Change. San Francisco, California: Jossey-Bass Inc., Publishers, 1996.