Have you ever wondered why some people seem to be able to handle whatever changes life throws at them, while others seem to freak out at the smallest change to their routine? The key difference between these two groups is their mindset. Change is inevitable and often thrust on us without our consent. Whilst it can be hard to control these external variables, we can of course control how we choose to react to them. After all, research shows that it is not necessarily change itself that causes our stressful, but instead the uncertainty that comes with experiencing change. But there are some simple skills that anyone can develop to help manage change when it does arrive.

The stages of change

Did you know that people react in the same way to dealing with death as they do when it comes to dealing with changes at work or elsewhere? This was a key finding in research conducted looking into the matter. When confronted with change, a persons first instinct is denial. They can be very high energy and insist that there is no way this will happen. This can present in various ways, it can lead to someone not taking relevant steps when it comes to the possibility of redundancy, or by fighting the implementation of a new tech system of way of working in the office and insisting nothing will change. As the change takes hold, a person then loses this energy and starts to seek support as they try to navigate this stage and they usually experience anger and frustration during this period. They then become more comfortable with the change as they realise that there is no going back and explore ways to continue to work in the new way. Finally, they accept the change, and it becomes their new normal.  

Dealing with change

I am not a particularly religious person by any means, but there is a prayer made famous by alcoholics anonymous that actually provides a near perfect template to dealing with change. Given the nature of addiction, I guess upon reflection, it is not a surprise that such a group created a framework for change management! It is known as the serenity prayer and it states:

 “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

As the scientific research shows, the final stage of change is acceptance of change. So, the emphasis of being able to accept the things that you cannot change is indeed wise advice. It can of course be incredibly hard to stop worrying about “what if?” but ultimately, if you cannot change it then worrying will do nothing except prolong the stress of the change. So as a first step to dealing with change, the first question to ask yourself is simply, can you change what is happening? If the answer is no, then try to put it to one side. This is of course easier said than done, but over time and with practice it will become easier.

Focus on what you can control

The second part of the prayer is to have the courage to change the things that you are able to. So, if for example, in the case of alcoholics anonymous, drinking alcohol is of course something you can change. If we bring this same approach in to the workplace, there are of course things you can and cannot change. If your company is being sold, unless you are the CEO its highly unlikely you can change that. But if you work for the business, there are things you can do to manage this change. You can update your CV just in case there are job cuts, you could apply for other jobs, you could also upskill yourself so that if decisions are made on job cuts your skills are too valuable to lose etc. A redundancy package could also enable you to start your own business or travel the world. So by investing your time in planning the variables that you can control, you are able to focus on how you respond to the change. This dramatically reduces the likelihood of “what if” and is a great way to avoid becoming a victim of change. After all, it is those that respond slowest to change that suffer the most.