How to manage change

Manage change by expecting change

In the course of my work I have found that the people who expect change, manage it best. Because they accept change as an ongoing natural part of life they tend to have a positive attitude towards it and hence better coping strategies.

They read the signs that change is coming, learn to interpret what they mean, and are consequently better able to interpret what they mean, and are consequently better able to cope when it happens. Treating change as a challenge empowers you. It lets you remain in control of the circumstances within it. As a result, any associated stress is kept to a bare minimum.

Get used to thinking about change and start to expect it in your life. Look at your future. What do you hope to achieve in the next five or ten years? It is a question that most of us only think about when we are going to job interviews. But your life is more than your career and no doubt you will have goals that you will want to achieve outside your job.

Use this information to assess what changes  you may have to make at work or at home. Prepare yourself mentally and start by taking small steps that will help you realize your goals. If you know that there are going to be major changes at work, start keeping an eye on job advertisements and also keep yourself informed about what changes any rival companies might be making.

Take your head out of the sand

The easiest way to avoid facing up to change is to deny it is happening:

Gary was a manager of a busy clothing store. He loved his job and could not imagine working anywhere else. Unfortunately, he had failed to pick up on the signals that head office wanted to relocate key members of staff, including him. Although he was given six months’ notice, two weeks before the move Gary had still to find somewhere for his family to live. Gary was in what counsellors call ‘denial’.

People in denial tend to carry on as normal, as if nothing had nor will change. Ultimately, when they are forced to face up to reality, it can be very stressful. Suddenly, they have a million and one things to do and they feel overwhelmed by the task ahead. They also carry the extra burden of having to function normally while still feeling the shock of finally waking up to the inevitable. Do you tend to say something like, ‘It will never happen to me’ or ‘They would never do that to me’. Both are typical denial statements.

Managing redundancy

As a counsellor I have worked with many people who have made similar comments about their job situation. They came to me feeling stressed because they suddenly found their jobs had been made redundant. Other people in the company had seen the signs and had been preparing for the worst by keeping an eye on the job market. As a result those people were in a stronger position when the ‘unthinkable ‘ happened.

Remember, though, that gossip on the grapevine can create alarm. In order to prepare for change you need to be confident that the information is accurate before you make a decision. Planning the change on the strength of hearsay can be just as stressful as denying it will ever happen.

First you need to assess whether some kind of change is certain, only a possibility, or just a figment of someone’s imagination. Get information from the people that count – those who are authorities on the situation or who are decision makers. If it is difficult to talk in the office, invite them for a cup of coffee or a drink after work.

Also be aware that even the decision makers can change their minds. While they may tell you one thing,  last minute developments could mean things go in the opposite direction!

Acceptance and resistance

Once you know that a change is going to happen, accept it and assess what impact, if any, it will have on your life. Ask yourself what good could come out of it for you. Identify what might be a downside and start to plan how to manage it. This will help you to maintain a feeling of control over the change and consequently the effect it has on your emotions.

Change inevitably results in you entering unknown territory. It can induce a whole range of emotions – fear, feeling of failure, a sense of isolation, and a general panic about coping. These are all perfectly understandable feelings but if you are unaware of this fact, you may find that you resist change by trying to hold on to old ways of doing things; you may even sabotage new methods and ideas.

If, say, your partner suggests that you fit a new burglar alarm on the house and you reply, ‘It will never work’ and then proceed to demonstrate exactly how it will fail, you would be showing a classic form of resistance to change, albeit a very simple one. Resistance can use up much needed energy reserves and also reduce the effectiveness of the transition. To say nothing of turning up the heat on your stress levels.

If you think you are resistant to change, try to alter your behaviour by identifying possible future changes to your life. Draw up a list and examine your attitude towards these new areas. Now what happens if you say to yourself, ‘I can be curious about these new experiences?´ Curiosity is an interesting state as it opens the mind to new possibilities and allows you to be creative in finding solutions to perceived problems. Go ahead and try it.

Turn a threat into a challenge

Look back on major or difficult changes that you have experienced in your life:

– leaving home for the first time,
– starting secondary school,
– moving house,
– getting married, or
– changing jobs.

Reflect on how you felt before going into each event and how you felt after it was all over.

You will probably find that you worried about a lot of things that never actually happened. Perhaps you did not recognise the enjoyable parts of the experience such as making new friends, exploring ideas, or discovering new activities.

Apply the same technique to the changes you are facing at present; identify the feelings that you have currently and then imagine yourself coming out the other side, three months down the road. Eventually, make a list of the new opportunities and enjoyable experiences you have had that came as a result of the change.

Now that you can see that change can bring positive opportunities, turn your current feelings into more optimistic ones, safe in the knowledge that some good and enjoyable experiences lie ahead of you.

Goodbye to the old, hello to the new

It can be stressful to try to hold on to old routines at the same time as developing new ways of operating.  I have worked with people who have been told that their job has changed, that they no longer have to do certain tasks and others have priority.

They have found it difficult to make the changes because of their attachment to the original tasks and have consequently overburdened themselves by trying to do it all. They have invariably blamed their bosses for causing their stress when, in fact, it was their inability to let go of old ways doing things which caused their problems.

Find ways to let go of old habits, territories or friendships. It can help to create a space in your mind for the ‘new’. Having a leaving party, throwing out old files and training manuals – these are ways of discarding the old in favour of the new. Imagine being free from certain activities in your life – not everything ‘old’ is necessarily good!

Travel with ease through transition

Once the process of change has got under way, unfortunately you are still not in the clear! Accepting change is one thing, how you handle it is another.

Often when you let go of the ‘old’ and while you are exploring the new, the temptation n is to try to do too much with the result that you turn into a ‘headless chicken’. Running around creating too much to do in too little time, will be just as stressful as denial or even resisting change.

Coping successfully with change is all about staying in control. Once you feel committed to the change that you are experiencing – changing your job, moving to a new area or whatever  – write down a list of things that have to be done. Set yourself short-term objectives to help you get through the initial stages and prioritise these items.

Do not try to be a superwoman or superman, to impress people with your effectiveness if your new role or environment. The chances are that if you try to do too much too quickly, you will make mistakes. You will gain far more from a steadier approach.

The right attitude

Facing change and travelling through transition can be managed effectively with the right attitude and with careful self-management. But how do you know if you have the right attitude? The following exercises will help you to assess your strengths and weaknesses for approaching change.

Think of a previous change in your circumstances that you have been through from start to finish. How did you manage each stage? Identify aspects that you could have improved and run through them again as you would have liked them to be.

Now list those new strategies. Read through them and make your thinking very positive by injecting positive statements such as, ‘I can really enjoy going through changes,’ or ‘New and challenging experience can come out of transitions’. Keep hold of this list and use it as a reference to help you get through future changes with the minimum of stress.

The next section deals with reducing stress in relationships.

Reducing stress in relationships >>

Text Copyright © Alix Needham
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