The great philosopher Lao Tzu wrote,
“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”
Change can make us feel disoriented, unbalanced, anxious. Digging in heels and holding on to “the way it was” is often an attempt to control our circumstances even while things keep moving “in whatever way they like.” In this month’s newsletter, we will tackle strategies for grounding ourselves through transition without being obstructionist and being flexible without losing morale.
Change versus Transition
First, let’s make the distinction between change and transition.
Change is something that happens to you. It could be something positive- such as purchasing a new house or being promoted- or even something painful like losing a loved one.
Transition is what is going on in your head and your heart as you go through change.
Change can happen quickly, while transition usually takes a while.
Bridges’ Model for Managing Change
Dr. William Bridges, author of Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change, explains that the difference between change and transition is at the center the way people behave during organizational shifts. Based on Bridges’ model, once a change has occurred, people move through three stages of transition:
Stage 1: The Ending – As Bridges points out, every change process begins with ending of the old way. Digging in and resisting change-sometimes to the point of emotional strain- is most likely to happen during the ending. Without letting go of the way things used to be, however, it is impossible to move onto the new.
Stage 2: The Transition Zone – This is the critical space between the ending and the new beginning. People report feeling disconnected from the past, but not emotionally ready for the present either. Bridges urges that the best way to successfully navigate this phase is through self-awareness.
Stage 3: New Beginning – By this stage, you have successfully embraced the changes that are occurring and begin to welcome the benefits the change has brought you personally and/or professionally.
While you sort through the stages of transition, here are some strategies for conveying optimism and an open heart to the change:
1. Determine what is in your control and what is not. When you’re overwhelmed by change, make a list of the things that are in your control versus the things that are not. For example, when your favorite manager retires, who is hired to replace her is not in your control, but getting to know them better is. While you can’t control which new system or technology is brought in to replace an old one, you can control how much time you set aside to learn how to use it. Recognizing the difference will help you take ownership over the things in your control and make a plan.
2. Understand your reactions to change and transition. Your DISC style predisposes some behaviors during times of change. Self-awareness can be half the solution.
These DISC four elements of human behavior are as follows:
D: How one approaches problems and challenges.
I: How one interacts and influences people.
S: How one responds to change and levels of activity.
C: How one responds to rules and regulations.
Feel bored with things stay the same
Can change directions easily
Get frustrated when others aren’t comfortable
Embrace change with optimism
Can see the benefits of the new direction
Are able to communicate positivity to others
Feel frustrated with negativity
Need time to prepare for change
Might react negatively when change is unexpected
Even when stressed, might come across as non-emotional
Need to see data in order to accept the change is wise
Good at planning and designing change efforts
Prefer to have a backup plan
Have a healthy skepticism of “the unknown.” Using the DISC to better understand your reactions to change makes it easier to find opportunities to create positive outcomes. For example, if your natural tendency is to get frustrated or impatient over the way those around you are reacting or adjusting to change, take time to lift up your worried colleagues a bit. Listen to what bothers them most and offer emotional support.
Conveying Competence During Times of Change
Here are some tips for maintaining balance and expressing your dependability when things feel uncertain:
1. Think ahead, be a leader. Understanding the larger context of organizational changes will show that you care about the organization and remain passionate about its mission. Consider what your manager might ask you to do during a transitional period. Attend training and briefings so you are prepared on an emotional and intellectual level. Prepare notes on projects that are moving to a different department. Take initiative and prove your ability to lead.
2. Show positivity. Demonstrate optimism with your body language (mind your posture, smile), actions and words. Ask your manager if there is anything you can do to help facilitate the change. Reach out to colleagues who seem overwhelmed and provide mentoring and support. Staying positive and focused on your current (and future) workload will assure managers that you are someone upon whom they can count.
3. Take care of yourself. Even positive change can be draining. Research has shown that individuals who incorporate self-care into their lifestyle are able to maintain a positive attitude even in times of great stress. Get to sleep on time, maintain your exercise routine, and pack healthy snacks to keep you energized throughout the day.
Once they understand and buy-in to a change, they are good at following through
ASK A MENTOR
Anyone who has earned a leadership position in the workforce has weathered change either as an employee or a manager. Talk to your mentor about their good and bad experiences with change. Here are some questions to get you started:
What has been the most difficult professional change you’ve experienced in your career?
What was most disappointing and disruptive about the change?
What were the positive outcomes?
How did your organization prepare you for the transition?
Is there anything they could have done differently? Could they have made it easier?
How did you adjust your working process to accommodate the change? Did you network? Look to others for advice? Organizational research? Rework your project files?
What steps do you take to prepare your team for change?
What behaviors best demonstrate that an employee is flexible and positive through transition?