We know that change is all around us. And as we come to the close of another year and prepare for the beginning to a new one, change becomes even more evident. We also likely understand that embedded in every change—or a milestone moment—is challenge, which often times means it is difficult to handle and/or move through. I am a firm believer that if I can understand an issue better, I can deal with it more easily. And because there are predictable dynamics that occur during times of change, I thought mid-December is the perfect time to help you transition into the New Year with increased knowledge and insight, which just may help you handle unexpected changes that lie ahead.
When going through change transitions, most people experience four reactions: denial, resistance, acceptance and commitment.
- Denial. Individuals feel a sense of shock and experience the “why me” victim mentality. The reality of the change hits and most people want and need information. But even though communication is critical, giving small amounts at a time is essential so as to not overwhelm and add unnecessary stress.
One high-profile example of denial was the Libya attack at the US Consulate in 2012. We were again attacked on 9/11 by terrorists. We couldn’t believe it happened again on US soil. A more personal example is of a loved one who was recently terminated from his job. Shortly after he was given the news, he called me completely shaken, crying uncontrollably. He didn’t understand how this could have happened to him; yet, some may say there were warnings, and if they were heeded, perhaps this horrible outcome wouldn’t have ensued.
- Resistance. When facing this reaction, people need to practice careful planning while also preparing for objections they may receive from others. This reaction to change is very personal and often emotional—with feelings of anger, fear and resentment often be displayed as a result of the change. Employees, colleagues and others are not engaged at work and if the resistance is poorly managed, crisis or chaos may occur.
Hurricane Katrina is a perfect example of resistance. Many people chose not to evacuate before their lives changed forever on August 29, 2006. They resisted leaving everything that was comfortable to them. This devastating hurricane, though, flooded 80 percent of New Orleans, destroyed over 100,000 homes and nearly 2,000 people lost their lives because of it.
A more personal example of resistance at holiday time is over-extending your pocketbook. Instead of realizing that your bank account is almost empty and you’ve begun using credit cards to avoid saying “no” or “I can’t afford that,” some choose to ignore what they know.
Both reactions drain energy and enthusiasm.
- Acceptance. This is the turning point for individuals and organizations. As acceptance grows, people explore what the change means to them. It is often viewed as an opportunity to do new things and take some risks. Learning is a key component during this reaction—which takes time and support. Rather than focusing on productivity, garner encouragement and heightened morale by discovering something new and exciting. One example of acceptance is recycling. What once was an idea deemed ridiculous and futile, has now become expected, “the right thing to do,” and frowned-upon when not adhered to.
A more personal example, especially as the New Year turns, is dealing with the battle of the bulge. As pounds tend to stick during the holidays, many head to gyms armed with lofty goals, newfound exercise regimes and healthy eating plans to help whittle the weight off. Those who invest in learning a new way of living—while making significant lifestyle changes—are usually the ones who shrink slowly and successfully.
- Commitment. The fourth reaction most people experience during times of change is commitment—where they embrace the change and uncover new possibilities that they hadn’t before imagined. Productivity tends to increase and the positive effects of the change are noticed and felt. An important element is to celebrate the achievement and share the success appropriately. One excellent example of commitment is the 9/11 Memorial at Ground Zero in New York. It is a place to honor and remember those who lost their lives and is also a symbol of incredible patriotism and optimism about the future. Here is a three-minute video clip illustrating this powerful feeling.
Both acceptance and commitment are proactive reactions that build energy and enthusiasm.
Most people move through all four reactions; however some get stuck in one of them. Do you know a loved one, a friend or a colleague who is stuck? If so, offer an empathetic ear or extend a helpful hand to lend support and guidance. Sometimes a small act of genuine kindness is all someone needs to march through that infamous steel door. Get unstuck by acknowledging and then working through the undeniable awaited angsts of change. When you do, acceptance will trump denial and commitment will defeat resistance, likely with success following swiftly.