Coping with Change at Work
Change can be a swine. It can vex you, perplex you, stress you and distress you. Happily, it doesn’t need to be like that. With just a few small tweaks to your coping with change strategy, change can become a refreshing and energising opportunity… a source of drive, rather than dive-for-cover.
Being the amateur philosopher that I am (a title I earned after repeating a quote I read on the back of a Guinness beer mat), I’ve always thought of change as a tide. Firstly, it’ll happen regardless of whether you want it to or not. Secondly, you have a choice. You either decide to go with it and learn how to swim, or you choose to risk drowning by using all your energy trying to resist the inevitable.
So, knowing the choice, what’s the best way to effectively cope with change?
1. Know What You’re Dealing With
Experiencing an emotional response to change is completely human. So, if you start feeling angry, shocked, frustrated etc in reaction to a change, know that it’s a completely natural response. In fact, the response is so natural and predictable that there’s a whole model dedicated to it – The Change Curve:
Knowing the change curve (and where you are on it), gives you clear advantages when it comes to coping with change:
- You’re ready, aware and prepared for the emotions that can follow a change – helping you manage them & rationalise them more effectively.
- You know what to expect along your transition through change.
- You can use your knowledge of the transition to accelerate your journey.
- You can harness your knowledge of the change curve to support others through their change transition.
Find out more about the Change Curve here.
2. Get Educated
In an ideal world, all changes would be grandly presented on a silver platter; complete with a garnish of perspective and a side-serving of all the information you’d ever need. But in reality, this is never the case… there are gaps, there are unknowns and there are questions.
Knowing this eventuality, you have a few options when it comes to how you respond:
- Sit at the side, like a knitter at the guillotine, cackling about how it’ll never work.
- Liberally scatter assumptions and hearsay.
- Use it in a positive way to your advantage. For example:
If you’ve got any questions about the change, don’t just sit there! Go find someone who can answer them, or better still, go scope out the answers for yourself. Research the change and go find out more about what’s happening and, more importantly, why.
If you’ve got assumptions, make an effort to speak to the right people so that you can quickly qualify or dismiss them (we’ve all heard that old adage about assumptions making an ass out of u and me).
Be prepared for the fact that all the answers might not be available. Even if they’re not, you can compile a list of questions for later consideration while you garner a better understanding of what’s happening (and why). Better still, you could start thinking about how some of those questions could be answered in light of the new change and then discuss them with your manager. If you accomplish this in a “can do” and positive way then, believe me, they’ll be grateful to have the benefit of your insight and expertise!
3. Roll Your Sleeves Up and Get Stuck In
In life you can either be “done to” or you can roll up your sleeves and get involved. I don’t know about you, but I’ve always found the latter a far less traumatic experience. It’s also a far healthier position – after all, it’s all too easy to lapse into cynical negativity when you’re sat at the sidelines and commenting from a distance.
Get involved with the change and contribute in whatever way you can. Not only will you feel better, but it’ll give you the opportunity to influence aspects of the change.
I recently had a conversation with a friend who absolutely loves change. He was frustrated with his colleagues who reject opportunities to get involved with changes in the factory where he works. He told me how they detach themselves, position themselves at a distance and simply point out “XYZ aspect of the change will never work”. Meanwhile, my friend – knowing the inevitability of the overall change and the fact that XYZ aspect won’t work – gets involved with the change to understand what alternative will work. He then uses the influence that comes with his knowledge and experience to change that one aspect. Meanwhile, his colleagues are still sat at the sidelines – arms folded and lips pursed like a Kardashian – becoming increasingly despondent, cynical and disengaged.
So get your hands dirty, get involved and use that power of yours (even though you might not realise you have it) as a force for good.
4. Maintain Perspective
It’s amazing how many of us can lose all sense of perspective when it comes to changes in the workplace. I remember an associate telling me how one of his employees started crying when he told her she’d be changing seats. And when I say crying, I mean full-on, I’ve-just-put-my-dog-to-sleep-we’ve-had-him-for-18-years type of sobbing. My associate was dumbfounded – after all, she still had a job, she was still doing the same work… the only difference was she’d be doing it from the other side of their small office.
I’m not going to get in to the ins and outs of the example (I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn there were lessons to be learned both sides), but the illustration stands: it can be so very easy to lose perspective when it comes to change within the work environment.
So do yourself a favour – consciously remind yourself to retain perspective. Not only will it preserve your integrity, but it could also protect your career. Don’t be remembered as the colleague who goes on an arm-flailing rampage every time they change the brand in the coffee machine.
5. See it as the Opportunity it is!
Ultimately, change is an awesome platform for your professional Survive and Thrive journey! After all, you can:
- Exercise your existing skills and develop new ones.
- Demonstrate your “can do” approach to working.
- Influence with your knowledge and experience.
- Maintain your motivation by being part of the solution, rather than a piece of the problem.
So seize the opportunity… don’t waste it.
It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg – C. S. Lewis
Before You Go…
I really want to help YOU with your Survive at Work journey. So why not let me know what your struggles are in work right now? What are the things that are making you tear your hair out, depleting your confidence or exhausting your career energy? Leave a comment below – I’d love to help you out.