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Managing Change

Managing Change

(Especially When You Don't Want To)

According to the Shocher Tov, a book of biblical commentaries, “If you behold a custom set by your forefathers, change it not!” In other words, if it was good enough for Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Rachel, Sarah, Rebecca and Leah, it should be good enough for us, right?

Well, I don’t know about you, but I am thrilled that much has changed since then. In ancient times, fathers could voluntarily sell their daughters into bondage and men purchased their wives. I could go on but do I really need to? Let’s just say that things have changed significantly for the better.

But regardless of the fact that many of us have experienced positive change over the course of our lives, we are often reluctant to embrace the next adjustment, modification or addition to our personal or professional routines and environments.

Do any of these sound familiar?

Your organization has just gone through a series of layoffs and restructuring of personnel in order to remain solvent in the current complex economic environment. You are now working twice as hard (at least!) with half as many resources available to you.

Your boss resigns, and is replaced by another manager who has entirely different work habits, communication styles, and hot buttons. You used to be able to ask your boss any question at any time. Now you have to schedule an appointment, and choose your words carefully.

Your once warm, open and affectionate daughter has moved from tween to teen, and now wants more privacy and fewer hugs. While you know that this is part of her maturation and separation process, you miss the closeness you once had – and wonder if you’ll ever get it back.

At some point in your life, you will have to (or, chances are, already have had to) deal with shifting plans, priorities, structures, styles and more. Let’s face it: ongoing change is a part of life – but that doesn’t mean we naturally embrace change, or even like it. For many of us, change leads to feelings of uncertainty and insecurity. It can make you feel out of control, adrift, and anxious.

In their book, “Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard” authors Chip and Dan Heath write about why change is so tricky for so many of us: “The world doesn’t always want what you want. You want to change how others are acting, but they get a vote. You can cajole, influence, inspire, and motivate— but sometimes an employee would rather lose his job than move out of his comfortable routines.”

Or, as comedian Billy Crystal put it, “Change is such hard work.”

The way you handle change has become a core competency critical to your professional and personal success. According to an article by management consultant Ruth Gmehlin, “How Change Affects Teams” from the Ottawa Business Journal, there are four ways that people typically react to change. Which one are you?

  1. “Change? No way, no how!” If you have lots of reasons why change won’t work, as well as reasons why the old way was better, then you may be a change resister. You may tend to speak up and disagree with those in charge (or resist passively), have to be asked several times to implement new processes and practices, feel stressed, and may “check out” emotionally. The harm is when you alienate yourself from the rest of the team in order to stand up for your beliefs.

  1. “Please, please, please don’t let there be change!” Does this sound like you? If so, then you may be afraid of what change means for you, your organization or your family. You may find yourself dwelling on the negative impacts of change and have a hard time seeing potential positive impacts. You’re not as much resistant as you are anxious, you may appear stressed, and have a hard time taking initial steps to implement change. Your actions (or inactions) aren’t willful, but come from apprehension. Your anticipatory anxiety can cloud your thinking – especially when you are committed to the perspective that this change is going to ruin everything.

  1. “Change? No big deal.” Do you enjoy creatively tackling the issues that result from change? If so, then this is you – a change embracer. While you may not seek change out, you accept it and are determined to succeed in spite of it. You are among the folks who allay the suspicions and fears of the prior two groups, and consistently make note of the potential positive outcomes. It’s important to keep in mind that not everyone sees change the way you do (see above) and that you may need to be patient with others who are slower to warm to the change.
  1. “Hey, Change: Bring it ON!” Are you the decision maker who is behind the change? Perhaps you’re the team player who has been waiting for something – anything – to be different around here? If so, then you are a change driver. Yes, there are plenty of people who eagerly embrace change. Many people in this group are results-oriented individuals who initiate the change activity within an organization. You may tend to think and act quickly, and may be easily frustrated by those who are resistant to change, afraid of change, or need more time to process change. If so, make sure that you’re pushing the change through — without being pushy.

No matter what your approach to change is, it’s important to keep in mind that you are never completely out of control. You may not have any input regarding the change itself, but you have choices about how you respond to it. You can continue to roll with your uncertain, insecure, and adrift feelings, or you can adopt a proactive stance and consciously decide how you will react to change. Equally as important is to take the change temperature of the others in your team, department, organization or family. They’re a part of the change system, too, and finding out where they are can help all of you manage the change together.

Change doesn’t have to go hand-in-hand with feelings of loss of control, anxiety, fear, and resistance. When you change your attitudes about change—when you embrace it and decide to work with it instead of against it—you put yourself right back into the driver’s seat.

In the words of the late great Gilda Radner, “Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what's going to happen next. Delicious ambiguity.”

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