Our world is constantly changing and often it is hard to keep up. In our work with students, administrators, parents and others, we are always reminded we need to keep up with change; and continue to change with the times so that we don’t get left behind, etc. But how often do we stop to teach ourselves HOW to deal with change? Do we allow ourselves time to understand what is going on?
This article will share with you some thoughts on dealing with change. I am not an expert with this concept, but would like to provide a good starting point for future conversation and thought.
It is important to note there are two types of change*, chosen change, and unchosen change. Each has a different set of emotions, reactions and coping mechanisims. Chosen change can be defined as a conscious choice a person makes to change something. The change happens within their sphere of influence and they have control over the choice to change.
The 5 stages one deals with in a “chosen change” are:
Stage 1 – We feel relieved that we have made the decision to change.
Stage 2 – We begin to explore our options. This is often exciting and interesting.
Stage 3 – We react to our decisions and may feel confused, scared or angry. Some call this stage ‘getting cold feet’.
Stage 4 – We accept the reality of the change and its consequences, both positive and negative.
Stage 5 – We are keen to make the changes work in constructive ways.
Unchosen change, or ‘change that chooses me’, has very different consequences and emotional stages from those of chosen change, or change that we initiate. In this type of change, the individual often has not make the choice to change and the control is outside their sphere of influence. The decision to make a change was not made by the individual. It is much more difficult to cope with and if not properly handled can have negative impacts.
The stages for unchosen change are:
Stage 1 – We react by denying the change and its effects.
Stage 2 – We experience strong feelings of depression, hurt, resentment and anger.
Stage 3 – We start to face the reality of the change.
Stage 4 – We start looking at options and taking responsibility
Stage 5 – We are keen to make the changes work in constructive ways
Some of the stages are uncomfortable as the person needs to deal with anxiety, wondering ‘Did I do the right thing?’. Other stages are quite exciting as the person thinks about the options before them. They may also find there are new skills they need to acquire to make the change complete.
When change is forced upon us from external sources, we can react by feeling threatened, angry, confused and isolated. Finding ways to overcome these feelings can help us move on and deal with the challenges we face.
With this in mind, here are some questions to ask yourself when dealing with change:
• What is really important to me?
• What new ways of thinking will help me to deal constructively with this change? What ways of thinking limit me?
• Who are my real allies and competitors in this situation?
• What skills and other resources do I have now that are useful? What else do I need to work on?
• What aspects of my present life are not helping (e.g. attitudes, roles, or organizations that I belong to) and how do I let them go or improve the situation?
As a person is working through the change stages, as well as answering the above questions, they will be going through a period of transition. It is important to note that there is a difference between change and transition. Change is considered to be external, it comes from outside of ourselves. It can be forced or something we choose to do. Change is said to happen at one point in time.
Transition is an internal process. It is our emotional reaction and attitude we use in deciding to accept, adapt, or resist change. Transition is a process that is worked through afterwards. Transition involves “letting go”, towards a “neutral zone” of uncertainty and then moving to the stage of “new beginnings”. When you can learn to successfully “let go” it will help in being able to move forward. It will increase our enjoyment and performance in work.
Dealing with change always begins with letting go of something, the realization that something is not going to be the same, or an ending. Often people do not realize or acknowledge the emotional transitions. Letting go commonly brings feelings of loss, grief, fear and sometimes guilt. We may feel anxiety about the future since it is no longer familiar. In order for us to move forward and have some control over the outcome, we need to let go of the past and start exploring all our options and opportunities. This is a normal part of any transition.
So, how can you be positive about working through and bringing about change?
According to an article by William Bridges & Associates, there are 3 questions very central to assist in the change process. They are:
1. What is changing? Does it create a clear picture to those who are supposed to make the change work?
2. What will actually be different because of the change? People need to know this to embrace the change
3. Who is going to lose what? This is important in the transition phase because it helps people feel affirmed & give them the tools to move on.
When you utilize these questions, you open the door to possible transitions people will experience as they begin to embrace the changes. The dialogue in addressing these questions will help to let go of the old way of doing something, so that new ways can be established. These questions can be very effective in assisting others to work through the stages of change.
More than half of the communications you will be involved in is the result of listening rather than speaking. Here is a prime opportunity to utilize the concept of asking the persons affected by change to “help me understand.” This provides you the opportunity to help process thoughts, feeling and emotions. During a time of change, you will find these 3 questions will help in creating an environment which reassures people and defuses opposition. They also generate information that you may not know yet. And, hey, you’re in transition too.
Whether you are working through the changes stages or if you are assisting another through the process, remember that each person will have a different perspective. Make sure that you don’t assume everyone or every situation is the same. Utilize this information as a guide to adapt to the needs of the individual.
I wish you well in becoming a positive change agent for yourself, your organization and others. Always be open to the possibilities of what can happen. Don’t pass up the opportunity to learn and grow.
Submitted by Evelyn A. Wallington, Associate Director of Residence Life, Appalachian State University