Change And The Uncomfortable Unknown

Guest Contributorby Karen Wilson | Posted | Communication

Change And The Uncomfortable Unknown

The average length of a newborn baby is 20 inches. But they grow fast in the first month - on average nearly 1.75 inches (4.4cm). If wee humans kept growing that fast, we'd have toddlers breaking height records.

Every one of us starts out life with constant change in the first year. We go from not being able to lift our heads or speak or walk to sitting up, crawling, saying a few words and giving big toothless smiles.

Then we spend our early years adjusting to one change after another. We start school and go from subject to subject and teacher to teacher. From grade school to high school and on to university, entering the workforce - it's one change after another.

With all that change, you'd think it wouldn't be so hard, right?

The things that change

In our home lives, we tend to have control over many changes we experience though they can still cause stress. In our work lives, most of us don't get to have a say in the changes that happen around us - even if it impacts our day-to-day work. And we all react differently.

I've personally been through a few dozen software upgrades in my career. For me it's like a birthday gift but some of my past coworkers preferred a root canal.

Software upgrades can seem like a piece of cake when you consider other workplace changes, such as reorganizations, lateral moves and promotions, changes to management or supervisors, layoffs and more.

Hard is hard: No comparisons required

We have a tendency to think about change in degrees. Consider two people: one has a new manager who turns out to be difficult to work with. Another was laid off with a couple dozen coworkers.

Many would say the person who was laid off is in the worse situation. But too many of us know just how hard it is to go to work every single day when your relationship with your manager isn't working. After all, half of us have left a job because of a manager.

Both situations are hard because there's so much uncertainty. Neither person had control over their change in circumstances. That lack of control is uncomfortable, but so are the unknowns about the future.

The unknown is uncomfortable

Change triggers alarms in our brain and we resist. The feelings we experience about change run the gamut: overwhelm, anxiety, confusion, disappointment, loss, doubt and, for some, depression.

Even if you didn't have a detailed picture in your head of how your life would look, getting knocked off balance by change means you need time to adjust your expectations.

Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.
- Stephen Hawking

How to support people through change

When changes happen, people need support. Providing that support is one of the ways organizations can show they care about people and not just business results.

Here are some ways you can support people as you roll out changes:

  1. Communicate as much as you can: Every step of the way, tell people what's going on. Be consistent, clear, concise and repeat as often as people need to understand and, hopefully, buy in. Let people ask questions and answer them publicly. Make sure communications are tailored to meet the needs of different audiences as well.
  2. Think about your own reaction: How'd you feel when you found out about these changes? Chances are, you've got people in your organization who felt similarly. There were probably people who felt worse and some who felt better. Now, what would make you feel better? As much as you can, do that for the people you lead. They'll feel the empathy in your response.
  3. Listen to people and their concerns: You can't give relevant answers or take effective action if you don't know what people are thinking and feeling. Be open to comments and concerns, even if they don't seem supportive of the changes. Genuine and equal openness to criticism and praise sends the message that people matter more than opinions and fears.
  4. Take time to prepare people: For changes that require training, build a training plan to ensure everyone gets what they need to be successful. For changes that require buy-in, help people to see where they have control to act for themselves. Giving them the power to make some decisions can make it easier to accept changes.

Help people see the positive side

At every stage, share opportunities the change will bring. For the individual. For the teams. For the organization. The more people start to look forward to it, the more you'll get support at every level for the changes you're making.

Want to learn more about how to step up to the challenge of change management? Join us at TalentSpace Live in Scottsdale, Arizona, May 1-4, 2017. Chris Cancialosi is going to lead a session to help HR pros take a leadership role in strategic initiatives that drive change.

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