How to Manage Change Effectively Without Getting Thrown

Oh my god! When was the last time there was a change at work? Last week? Yesterday? Ten minutes ago? It's happening all the time, right?  And, let's face it, change can be a real bitch. You may be anxious waiting on more corporate announcements that seem to be coming at a snail's pace in this digital age. Or, you feel left out of the process about a recently announced process change. Or, maybe you think the latest change isn't going to work, but you know someone at a higher pay grade does. Guess what? Others are feeling the same way. And, you can use that to your advantage. When your co-workers get distracted or don't deal with the ambiguity change events create, you can grab the bull by the horns like a badass if you know how to manage change effectively.

 You can't control change in the workplace, but you can control how you respond. Your power as a young professional lies in how you manage your behavior during change events. 

You can't control change in the workplace, but you can control how you respond. Your power as a young professional lies in how you manage your behavior during change events. 

Change is a process

Everyone responds to change differently, but we all go through predictable phases. Denial, Resistance, Exploration, and Commitment are the 4 phases of Change illustrated in The Change Curve by Cynthia Scott. I love this model because of its simplicity, and it's the basis for others that follow. Resistance is the phase that typically wreaks havoc because people feel so powerless. When you get out of your comfort zone, it’s a perfectly reasonable and understandable reaction. The problem is  that you may get stuck and wallow around in it way too long. You don't want that to happen. Granted, you can’t make change go away, but you aren’t powerless. Your power lies in how you control and manage your response. Then, it's like "Wow, I got this. I'm going to kick some ass."  So, step up little buckaroo and get your boots on. This won't be your first rodeo or your last.  You can handle whatever comes your way by asking these two questions.

1. Why am I resisting this change?

Start by asking yourself “Why am I so frustrated/concerned/angry/______ about this change?Usually, the factor driving resistance is a feeling of loss. It could be a general insecurity about what the future holds or where you stand in the big scheme of things. It might be a concern about whether your skills meet the new job demands. Or, perhaps your role is unclear at this point. There may be a shakeup in important relationships. You may have a new boss or be part of a new team. Or, maybe you are in limbo because no one knows exactly what the hell is going to happen or what to expect. This happens a lot. Changes are announced and no one has all the answers. It's frustrating - but you still have some control. And, of course your job may be eliminated, which is the most significant loss to wrap your head around.  So take the time to reflect, feel and think about it.  And realize what you feel today, tomorrow, this week or next may change as things evolve.

2. What can I control?

Now it's time to ask “What can I control?”.  Others may control change that affects us, but they can not control our response to change. That's where our power lies. We can act like a helpless victim to change at work, or we can find ways to have a more empowering response. What does that look like? It can be as simple as taking the initiative instead of being a passive bystander in all things change event related. To step up and communicate more openly instead of shutting down, volunteer for a new change related project. Or, you make a rule to talk directly to your manager or team lead instead of having private sidebars that don’t accomplish a damn thing but fuel your resistance.  Or, instead of being problem focused like so many others, maybe you go rogue to figure out how this new shit can work in your department. Or, perhaps you're just going to hold on tight, have a positive mindset, do your job and let the dust settle. And, if nothing else, it could be time for a few vacation days and a road trip to stop at honky tonks with mechanical bulls so you can practice your bull riding skills. The answers will be different with each new change. The point is, you control your response to change and that's power.

3. A cautionary note

Resistance is normal, but if you want to openly complain, vent or bitch do it away from work.  And then only share with co-workers you trust. Even then your comments can be taken out of context, or a nod may be interpreted as agreement instead of understanding. You never know what you might say after you loosen up with a couple of margaritas and a tequila shot.  Sadly, I've seen people throw co-workers under the proverbial bus all too easily when they feel backed into a corner. Don't let that happen.  A much safer approach is to talk to non-work friends and family about your initial reactions and feelings as you're processing them.

For more on the topic of change response read leadership author John Baldoni's post about the importance of self-management in self-awareness.

What helps you cope during change events? Share your ideas and comments so we can learn from you!