The Emotion of Change

Published on 17 November 2016 at 10:31 am #changemanagement #conflictmanagement #influencingskills #leadershipskills #projectmanagement

Change is one of those subjects I'll be writing about till it's time for me to lay down my pen.

Today I'm going to focus on the feelings that can happen around change and how to manage yours and other people's emotions.

Change during any time of uncertainty creates an uneasiness that you can practically feel in the atmosphere. Whether it's Brexit, the US Presidential election, an unexpected merger, an office move, redundancies, new policies or even having to find a new way to get to work because of road works, change disrupts the rhythm of our lives.

We need change; we need to be challenged; we need to develop as human beings which means something different has to happen which in turn leads to change. The contradiction in all of this is that at the same time that change is a positive it can feel threatening, it can knock us off course, it can make us feel discombobulated and unsure.

Even people who are 'early adopters' and who generally thrive on change can feel as though their world has been rocked to its foundation if change comes suddenly or if it's imposed from on high or if it's not what they expected.

Managing change well means managing the contradiction of needing change to grow and needing things to stay the same in order to feel safe.

Here are a few tips to help you manage change more effectively.

1. Accept that yours and other peoples' feelings are real. It's incredibly frustrating and enraging when someone tries to dismiss your feelings. Someone recently said to me, "Get over it" when I said how upset I was about a recent change. Get over it? I don't want to get over it just now, thank you very much. I need to stew for a while till some kind of healing process happens.

2. Which leads to… accept that for some people change will take longer to 'get over' than others. We all have different ways of processing the world around us and expecting everyone to march to your beat (especially if you are an embracer of change) is unrealistic and unfair. You can help people manage their process by understanding how they see the world rather than hustling them to get to a place where they see the world the way you do.

3. Avoid using the term, 'at least'. When someone is struggling with change, hearing the term 'at least' is completely useless in helping people with their feelings: "at least the new offices are closer to the tube" "at least they're only making a few redundancies" "at least you have a job, there are plenty of people who would love to be in your position". In my experience, people will eventually find their own silver linings if other people stop telling them to cheer up or that they don't know how good they already have it.

4. Show genuine empathy because sometimes it isn't going to be OK. Sometimes there really are no silver linings. A little empathy goes a long way because as human being we need to feel heard and acknowledged. When people know they have been understood that's one less battle they have to fight and they can begin to process their emotions more effectively.

5. Take some kind of action. When change hits us, it's easy to fall into a kind of helpless inertia because we feel impotent and powerless. There is always something, no matter how small, that you can do. You may not be able to prevent the merger, but once you have managed the shock, you can offer gentle options while seeking opinions. Because so much change is imposed and we don't have much say in the big stuff, it's vital to focus on the small stuff we do have some control over and make active choices so we feel connected and involved.

6. Finally, when you are overloaded with change, sometimes it's wise just to take a time out. Lick your wounds in private, avoid having a moan-fest with like-minded people. Instead, see if you can gently wind down the 'what-if' hamster wheel of wishful thinking till you get to a place where you aren't fully awash in emotions.

It is at that point that you will have regained some balance and perspective which will enable you to go back into the fray of change.

By Jo Ellen Grzyb, Director, Impact Factory

Check out Impact Factory's Change Management, Conflict Management, Leadership, Project Management and Five Day Elite Courses.