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Without Change There Would Be No Butterflies, The Emotional Impact of Change

By Stephanie Corking, People Director

“Only a fool never changes his mind” 

(Richard Branson) 

As the saying goes; ‘change is inevitable’, and that has certainly been true for me over the past few months. Both personally and professionally I’ve embarked on some massive changes in my life, and still feel like I’m in the eye of the storm with a few of them. Charles Darwin had it nailed when he said, “It’s not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change”. But surely an intelligent and strong person knows what to do in times of change? You’d be surprised how many don’t… 🙌

 

Stressed out lady 

 

What has been a really interesting personal reflection is how I’ve ‘coped’ with this change.  

I’ve always been very positive about change, embraced change, and often invited it in (both consciously and subconsciously). I’ve done a lot of analysis of myself and my reaction to changes in my life over the past few months; the goal posts have moved, moved again and then moved again. Change has been constant, and my emotional goal posts, i.e. how I’ve reacted to change; have also had to move with it.  

However, can we get to a point where too much change is unhealthy? And if the change is constant, then does this then become the norm; therefore, not actually ‘change’ by definition? I never knew change fatigue was a thing?! And, the negative symptomatic behaviours such as cynicism, scepticism and distrust that it can sometimes bring.  

If we look at some of the symptoms of change then this can often lead us to how resilient we are in coping with it. Change in the workplace is often driven by increasing competitiveness or the need to be the first or be the best. The rapid pace of technology often demands change in our systems and processes; the increased customer expectations and necessity for a customer centric culture will drive a change in how we treat consumers… and on top of all these external factors we are changing the way we talk to our teams; how we communicate, how we recruit, how we manage, how we coach; our expectations of the workforce and what they deliver is constantly changing… WHEN WILL IT STOP??!!  

However, what I have been observing and reflecting on recently is what happens to people when things change? There are plenty of top tips and strategies to help leaders and managers drive a business and their teams through a change curve, but how do manage ourselves through change? What about the emotional impact it has on us – are we looking after our emotional wellbeing first?  

From an emotional perspective, people deal with change in different ways, however, we do all go through a similar journey. Elizabeth Kuber Ross shows the emotional impact that change can have on us at each stage of the change cycle. However simply recognising this is not enough. We need some strategies to help us to move through the emotional stages and come out the other side (ready for the next change that is coming our way!!).  

 

Ref: Elisabeth Kubler Ross Change curve  

 

Strategy #1 - Communicate Communicate Communicate 

John Kotter, the author of ‘Leading Change’ said that we underestimate the communication by the factor of 10 during a change. Whilst his findings were very much focused on leadership behaviours, it’s worth taking this advice into account from a personal level. Communicating how we feel about change can often feel overwhelming, particularly when we are shocked or angry at the beginning of the change process.  

If we look back and reflect on some of the huge changes in our lives, we could have probably dealt with them better or faster if we had communicated our thoughts and feelings earlier on. Failure to do this can often mean we hang out in the negative space at the bottom of the curve for longer than necessary therefore harbouring feelings of guilt, panic and depression. Never a good place to hang out for too long. By communicating our worries and fears we can move our emotional state into acceptance in a calmer, controlled and non-emotional way.  

 

Strategy #2 - Take Responsibility 

Whether changes are forced upon us or are our own choice or doing, we may sometimes struggle to take responsibility for our own emotional response to the change.  

I often find when coaching clients, it doesn’t matter if the change is imposed or through choice, they can often learn to manage the operational process but struggle with taking responsibility for the behavioural aspects. Particular if the change has been imposed, an emotional response can come from anger or resignation.   

The one thing you can take responsibility for is your reaction to change. Your reactions and behaviours are totally within your control. If you are feeling negative, fearful, angry, frustrated then only you can take responsibility for these feelings and find a way to move forward. Harbouring feelings of blame or guilt will only damage one person, you.  

This leads us on perfectly to....

 

Strategy #3 – Accept That Some Things Are Outside Of Your Control

The impact of stress and worry has been widely documented in the past few years and the shift to focus on our wellbeing has been enormous! A recent check on Instagram showed that the word wellbeing has been hashtagged 2,548,908 times!!  And we are well aware of the negative effects that stress has on our health – it's literally a killer.  

Taking a step back and looking at what is actually within our circle of influence can really help in times of change.   

If you are truly passionate about something that you can make a difference or influence, then yes it’s worth getting a bit hot and bothered (occasionally). If you can’t change or influence a situation, walk away and just accept that some things are just outside of your control.   

Identifying where we sit on the emotional change curve is key to applying the strategies to get us onto the next stage, and ultimately into the integration and acceptance stage. Our fundamental response to change is not logical, but emotional. Whether its imposed change, or change we have initiated or welcomed, there are strategies we can employ that means we can look after our emotional wellbeing and not let the negative effects impact on our lives too much.  

 

“Change is inevitable, Growth is intentional” 

Glenda Cloud