Change is inevitable. Sometimes it can be positive – business growth or a pay raise and other times it can be painful – losing your job or a personal loss. Often the hardest changes to understand and adjust to are the ones that are unexpected and out of our control – a recession, a global pandemic, or a major disaster. Changes of this magnitude can be difficult to come to terms with, but you'll often find that your experience of them can be made better or worse depending on your reaction and your attitude. Lets explore the different ways in which people tend to approach change, the reactions that you might have, and how to best cope with it.
How People Cope With ChangePeople tend to cope with change in one of two ways:
- Escape coping.
- Control coping.
Control coping, on the other hand, is positive and proactive. You refuse to behave like a "victim" of change. Instead, you manage your feelings, get support, and do whatever you can to be part of the change
In reality, most of us respond to major change with a mixture of escape and control coping. But control coping is generally the better option, as it is impossible to avoid the reality of change for long without becoming exhausted or damaging your reputation.
Stages of Reacting to ChangeChange can be difficult because it can challenge how we think, how we work, the quality of our relationships, and even our physical security or sense of identity. We usually react to change in four stages:
- Shock and disorientation.
- Anger and other emotional responses.
- Coming to terms with the "new normal."
- Acceptance and moving forward.
Stage 1: Shock and DisorientationExperiencing a sudden, big change can feel like a physical blow. For example, a global financial crisis may result in significant losses and redundancies. This may sweep away roles and relationships that you've cultivated for years, leading to instability. Or, a sudden bereavement or health issue may change your fundamental outlook on life.
In the initial stage of coping, you'll likely feel confused and uncertain. Your first priority should be to seek reliable information and to make sense of the situation.
Ask for updates from your manager and HR department, research other people's similar experiences, and talk through your concerns with family and friends. If available, contact another relevant support group. Be sure to distance yourself from gossip and rumors – they are often baseless and negative, and will likely cause you more pain and anxiety, not less.
Start to objectively examine the level of threat that you're facing. Are there potential benefits that you've overlooked? Might an enforced change in your job role allow you to learn a valuable new skill, or to work with new people, for example? You'll likely not reach any firm conclusions at this stage, but try to remain as positive as you can.
Stage 2: Anger and Other Emotional ResponsesInitial disorientation at the prospect of change usually gives way to a wave of strong emotions. You might be angry about a downgrade of your role, or fearful about the impact that a layoff will have on your family.
Even if the change in your circumstances is something that you've instigated yourself, you may find yourself swinging between optimism and pessimism. This is quite natural, and it's a normal step on the way to resolving your situation.
It's important to avoid suppressing your emotions, but it's equally key to manage them. So, acknowledge the way you feel, but be sure to assess what you can express openly (such as general comments about a project's progress) and what you should probably keep to yourself (opinions about a colleague' performance, for example). Don't be too surprised or embarrassed if you find yourself in tears at work. This is a natural reaction to the uncertainty and confusion that often follows a sudden change. One way of coping with change is to build up your resilience skills.
Stage 3: Coming to Terms With the "New Normal"During this stage, your focus will likely start to shift away from what you've lost and toward what's new. This process may be slow, and you might be reluctant to acknowledge it, but it's an essential part of coping with change. The key here is to make a commitment to move on. Start to explore more deeply what the change means. Your instinct may be to behave resentfully and to be unwilling to cooperate, but this may cause yourself and others harm. So, search for and emphasize the positive aspects of your developing situation. At the same time, be patient. Remember, coming to terms with change is a gradual process.
It's vital that you avoid pretending that everything's OK if it's not. So, if you find yourself regressing to Stage 2, give yourself time to recover. Use affirmations to improve your self-confidence, and ask for help from friends or a mentor.
Stage 4: Acceptance and Moving ForwardThis is the stage when you come to fully accept your changed circumstances. Acceptance doesn't mean giving up entirely on your former situation. You'll have valuable memories, skills and relationships to carry forward, but the point is that you are moving on, whether in your career or in your wider life.
Draw up a personal mission statement and a legacy statement to stay on track. Then set yourself goals and create an action plan to make the most of your new situation.
SummaryChange comes in many forms, but leaving behind what we know and are used to is almost always stressful, even if we've made the change ourselves. Coping strategies generally fall into two categories: "escape" and "control." Most people use a mixture of both to cope with change, but control strategies are generally a healthier way to work through change and offer the greatest long-term benefits. People are more likely to progress through these stages successfully if they acknowledge their feelings, explore the facts, stay positive, draw on their support networks, and give themselves time to adapt. Source:Mindtools
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