Change is inevitable as you know, and change is constant. Regardless of how secure you may feel in your job, family life, relationships or social life, it could all change in a millisecond, today, tomorrow or next week, and you could be left coping with unplanned change.
Change affects us all at different times and with varying degrees of impact. No matter what the change, or how drastic it is, we all have some type of reaction to it.
People like Change! Huh?
Have you ever been told that people don’t like change? I don’t think that’s true. We’re always and consistently changing, we change our clothes every day, our hairstyles, our house décor, our cars, our jobs, our houses, our partners, our friends and just about anything else we have in our lives.
We change physically as we age, and we’re constantly re-evaluating and updating (changing) our belief system. I don’t see the world today as I saw it 20 years ago, our environment changes, people we know change, we change, and we must change to progress.
Unexpected Change Sucks!
What people don’t like is unplanned change, or change that is thrust upon them unwillingly. Examples might be, restructuring at work, a partner leaving you unexpectedly or being told by your landlord that you must move out at the end of the month.
These are the changes that come from leftfield, and have the ability to throw us into turmoil with their spontaneous emergence. They’re about as welcome as a fart in a spacesuit.
Think back to changes you have made in your own life, changes that you have personally instigated or planned, aren’t they usually more unproblematic and easy to cope with?
Take moving to a new house, you actively plan for this type of change, and although the actual physical moving can be arduous and stressful, don’t you cope with this change much better than if a change was sprung upon you?
Of course, because you have time to prepare for the expected change and therefore you cope with it much better. It’s the element of surprise and the forced immediacy of action that we don’t like, not the change itself.
Another amusing example is Facebook, every time Facebook implements wholesale design changes to the front end of their website, groups and petitions start to emerge with names like ‘Change Facebook Back’ or ‘We want the old Facebook Back!’ and these groups always have well over one million members.
Planned change is sought all the time, however unplanned change is what people refer too when they state, “People don’t like change”.
Emotional Prerequisites to Unplanned Change
Due to the unexpected nature of unplanned or unwilling change, you may experience certain emotions prior to reaching the acceptance stage, which makes the whole experience much more difficult to cope with.
I’ll use restructuring at work as an example of unwilling change. The management decide your role will be altered, it will mean you have to work different hours to your normal routine, and take on new tasks. Your job title might change and you may be asked to work longer hours for the same or less pay.
You’re informed of the proposed changes and the consultation period starts.
You may initially be in denial about the proposed changes. You may state things like, “Oh this is just the people at the top throwing their weight about again, it’ll never happen”
Your denial may manifest passively, you may stop volunteering for team events or optional steering group meetings etc. You may stop making suggestions, asking questions or offering constructive criticism.
You can hover in this stage for a while, depending on how the restructuring is progressing.
Another stage you may experience is resistance, active or reactive resistance. You may actively change your style and become obstructive and difficult to approach and stop going that extra mile at work. Your performance and attendance may drop and be noticeable by management.
Once you are aware that the proposed changes are becoming a reality, you may experience anger. You’re angry that you are being forced into a change that you never asked for. Your anger might not be directed at your management, as that would put your employment at risk, it may spill over into other elements of your life.
The display of more negative tactics might come into play by becoming outwardly and verbally negative and offering destructive criticism, or even go as far as sabotage.
This state is not doing you or the people around you any good at all.
After denial, resistance and anger you move into acceptance, as you become more familiar with the changes which are occurring. You’re adapting to the change, it is no longer a shock to your system, and you’re becoming more comfortable with it.
You may at this stage even start to see the benefits of the proposed changes, should there be any, and you become more flexible in your approach.
The three prior stages of emotion (denial, resistance and anger) are non-existent when you have instigated a planned change in your life. You’ve discussed them at length, and mulled them over, before making the decision to go ahead and change something.
The feelings of denial, resistance and anger can manifest in reaction to any forced or unwilling change which occurs in your life, regardless of its nature.
If we agree that coping with change is easier when planned, than coping with change when it’s unplanned or thrust upon us, how can we lessen the impact unwilling or forced changes create in our lives?
Here are five productive ways of coping with unplanned change:
- Be Prepared
This is one of the best ways to cope with unplanned change, and because you know that change is consistent and inevitable, you know that it can occur at any time. If you can skip the negative reactive emotions of denial, resistance and anger, you will be ahead of yourself in terms of reaching a state of acceptance.
Being prepared is different to being pessimistic and always assuming that negative change is on its way to you. You’re not so much thinking that something negative is about to happen, just more aware of the emotional processes and ready to pro-act should it occur.
Remember, most change whether planned or unplanned usually benefits us in the long run.
If you become an artist in adaptation you will lessen the emotional strain you experience when change occurs. If you view change as an opportunity to grow and broaden your life experience, even welcoming it when its transformative fin emerges from the murky water, you will cope much better with change.
Showing that you can adapt will ease the pressure on yourself and others around you who may also be involved in the change. You are sending out positive signals that change is bearable, and this just may assist your friends, family or co-workers, showing them you are a dependable force when it comes to change.
- Faith and Optimism
When the inevitable happens, have faith that it’s for your greater good. Feel optimistic about what the change might bring into your life.
It may not have seemed like it when it was happening, but are there times of change you can look back on right now, and with the benefit of hindsight see, that if such and such hadn’t happened; it wouldn’t have opened the door to new and exciting results?
Here’s an example, your partner leaves you unexpectedly, and you knew your relationship was becoming a little stagnant. But you were just plodding along hoping that it was maybe just a rough patch.
So, you’re now single, and 3 months later you meet the partner of your dreams. You’re made for each other, but had you just plodded along aimlessly in your previous relationship, you may never have met your true match.
What may have seemed like a radical and upsetting change at the time was actually a necessary process enabling you to flourish and grow.
- Be Aware
Ensure you are always aware of how you are feeling regarding any unplanned change. If you begin to experience denial, resistance or anger feel safe in the knowledge, that although this may be a natural reaction, you are in control of how you react and feel and have the ability to change and work through it.
Emotional awareness gives you the heads up and allows you the time to assess and evaluate your next move.
- Be Proactive
Although you may not feel like doing so, embrace and become proactive when unplanned change occurs. The more you’re involved and part of the change, the more quickly feelings of acceptance will emerge.
You don’t have to be a passive bystander just because you’re unhappy or uneasy about the impending changes. Becoming proactive will empower you and ensure you are able to have your say along the way, should the opportunity arise.
Forced, unplanned or unwilling change can inhibit us with feelings of powerlessness if we allow it. So what better way to regain your power than by becoming proactive.
So how do you feel you cope with change? Can you see aspects of yourself in this article?
Remember, it’s not so much the detail in the change, it’s the type of change, planned or unplanned, and how we react and deal with the change that really matters.