In last week’s blog, we explored two hypotheses around change: (1) Changes exist in each and every moment of the day; and (2) We are built to maintain the status quo and therefore, reject change. I left you with some questions to think about: Do you accept change as inherent in your life? Do you fight it, or recognize and accept it? Do you fight your own tendency to avoid pain, or do you see growth in pain? What feelings and emotions do you associate with change? What types of changes affect you more than others? What’s your change I.Q.?
These answers provide the groundwork for looking at what we call – change intelligence – a variation on the popular idea of emotional intelligence. This week’s blog will explore the four steps needed for self awareness and self management during times of transition:
1. Acceptance – acknowledge your emotional state regarding the change*
2. Understanding – explore why you feel the way you do about the change*
3. Ownership – own the emotions you feel and seek their signal to action*
4. Expression – express your emotions appropriately, applying strategies for effective emotional self-management*
Let’s take something fairly simple and see how it might play out. In my weekly staff meeting, I get updated on the status of several projects. My boss, in anticipation of taking advantage of the schedule for next week, assigns a new deadline to a project that I am working on. I look down at my calendar and realize that I have vacation time scheduled during the time I need to complete the report.
Step One: Acceptance requires an understanding on my part that the emotions I begin to feel are natural during the change process. When new information is taken into our brains, it is interpreted as either a threat/danger or opportunity. If it is seen as a danger or threat, we might have an instinctual “fight or flight” reaction. That “fight” reaction can come in the form of aggressive communication such as argumentative resistance, glaring eyes, hostile body language etc. A “flight” reaction can come in the form of denial, giving in to the change or avoiding the situation altogether – passive communication response. We can also see the “not-so-nice” flight reaction that can play out in silent sabotage, sniping comments or under the surface resistance in many non-productive forms.
When change is anticipated but hasn’t been defined yet, our emotions could range from confusion, anxiety, or fear to what’s commonly seen as “the fog.” William Bridges (1980) talked about that place as “the wilderness” or the neutral zone – that place between the old and new. [Read Bridge’s Getting Them Through The Wilderness here]
Acceptance means recognizing the range of emotions that can be present when a danger or threat poses a “loss” of something we have or could have had. Bridges also addressed the reality that every new beginning has an ending. That ending represents a loss. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in On Death and Dying (1969) explained the five stages of the loss cycle we often feel when confronted with this process – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. We can feel these emotions to varying degrees, for varying time periods and, as a consequence, bounce around like a ping pong ball between them until we come to a place of acceptance. [See the loss cycle in our Change Management Training sample, click here]
Let’s go back to our scenario and apply what we’ve learned. I could view this new deadline as a threat to my vacation or family time. I may have an immediate “fight” reaction and say, “well, that’s not going to be possible. This is new news to me. Why are you changing things at the last minute? If you had wanted this project to be completed by Tuesday next week you should have said something weeks ago. That’s the problem with this place; you can’t plan anything without it getting screwed up.”
Or, I might get lost in the fog and comment, “I’m confused; what needs to be done by when?”
Lastly, I could have a “flight” or martyr reaction and say nothing in the meeting, but complain to friends and family on how I never get my vacation time because something always comes up at work. I could carry resentment and it may raise its ugly head in future meetings as sarcasm or sniping, withholding information or playing to the sympathies of others.
Step Two: Understanding encourages us to explore why we are feeling they way we feel. What do the feelings represent? Change equals loss: what we are actually losing, what we are threatened with losing and what we never had and now never will have.
The severity of my reaction can be determined by the degree of loss I feel from losing that time off. If I anticipated the possibility of losing those days or had nothing planned for those days, I might well move through the cycle very quickly and not have a strong emotional reaction. On the other hand, if I am reminded of past situations that are similar and still have strong, unresolved feelings, I could have an overly emotional response, reliving the past as well as the present.
Whatever our reaction, steps one and two require us to be in tune with what we are feeling and have an understanding of why we are feeling what are feeling. Being knowledgeable about how our emotions work, our emotional triggers and tendencies will help us from being caught off guard. Change, by its nature, doesn’t give us any warning and that is part of the problem.
Step 3: Ownership requires us to accept and own our emotions, seeing them as a signal, rather than evaluating them as good or bad. Too often we’ve been taught that emotions are unacceptable at work. However, emotions are the source of motivation. If we don’t accept our emotions, we will affect our level of motivation to participate and engage in the change. Our emotions signal that the change has had an impact on us whether we are trying to deny it or not.
Step 4 – Expression recognizes the need to appropriately express our emotions and manage them, not let them manage us and determine our actions. Giving yourself permission to express emotions in a healthy way allows you to process through them in a manner that doesn’t negatively impact your relationships with others or your job performance.Whenever possible, giving yourself time to work through these emotions, alone or with the help of others, and putting in a “stop and wait mechanism,” will prevent you from damaging your effectiveness during change. This step may require you to formulate a standard way of responding to others so that you are not caught off guard in the heat of the moment.
Again, let’s go back to our scenario. I could say to the group, “Since this is my project the new deadline impacts my workload for next week. I had originally scheduled vacation time. I need some time to look at my plans and come up with some options for meeting this new deadline. Will that work for everyone?”
Change intelligence, similar to emotional intelligence, recognizes that during change we need processing time to accept, understand, own and express our feelings about the change. When we are encouraged to do that, it will mean a better outcome in the long run.
What is your change intelligence and the CQ of your staff?