Change is something that encompasses our lives in every sense. Whether it is the development of a new relationship, career change, birth of a child, beginning of a marriage, etc. Change often equates a great learning curve and potentially lots of stress. Yet where would we be without change? Think of where we would be in terms of technology, science, medicine, and society if we were not constantly evolving and changing.
William Bridges states that “change is the way that things evolve and that change is how we got to where we are and how we’ll continue the trip.” Collerrette and Delisle define change as “any modification that has a durable nature observed in the culture or structure of an organized system.”
Considering that change is all around us and is inevitable, why do so many people fear and resist it all at the same time? Change often causes uncertainty and feelings of unease, and normally we do not like to feel like we are outside our realm or that we are treading in foreign waters. Change causes anxiety and stress yet it also affords us much excitement and often creates new opportunities for growth and development whether it is personal or professional.
Change by its nature puts us into a grey zone as we transition between the old and the new. William Bridges work on transition tells us that people go through three phases when undergoing a change process. The 1st phase is the “Letting Go”, the 2nd phase is the “Grey or Neutral zone”, and the 3rd phase is the “New beginnings”. According to Bridges many change efforts are not successful or well managed because many people are stuck in the neutral zone and are not able to transition into the new beginnings zone.
When in the Letting go (1st phase) we have a sense of loss, we tend to be agitated, fearful and anxious and often will resist the change; in the Neutral Zone (2nd phase) we tend to feel a loss of power, control, stress and a general disorientation, a little bit like a fish out of water. The 3rd phase is characterized by the renewal of our energy, enthusiasm, self-esteem and hope for the future.
To manage the 1st phase we need to be able to let go of the past and make peace with what is being lost or left behind. The second phase is managed by the ability to regain a sense of control and power, self-esteem around our abilities, capacities, manages stress, etc. So how can we manage to maintain control when the situation is often out of control?
We must firstly take stock of the things that we can control and let go of the things that we have no control over, for this is a loss of energy. It is also very important to ask questions when in doubt or when you simply just don’t know. Information really is power in that it allows better understanding and therefore deciphering what is truth and what is perception. Managing your stress is extremely important in times of change, as stress will only add to the chaos if you are not taking care of yourself. Also ensure that you share your anxieties, concerns, etc. with someone whom you trust, as this often helps to put things in perspective.
Managing the transition (neutral zone) is a process that takes the time it needs to take. Every individual manages the phases at their own pace and rhythm and there’s no prescribed amount of time for each phase. It will take the time that it needs to take. The important thing is to be aware and conscious of what it is you are going through and creating a game plan that will help you to manage the change in the most efficient way possible.
Ask yourself initially if you are resisting the change? How will you know if you are resisting change? Hallmarks of resistance would be manifested by questioning trivial matters, incessantly asking questions even after the question has been answered, incessantly talking about the past, etc.
Any system that is undergoing a change, whether large or small, has to ask itself, how will the people manage the transition? If the transition is not successful then very likely the change effort will not be successful, because essentially, people are the driving force behind any change strategy that a company may want to implement. For a change effort to be successful ultimately it requires a lot of proper planning, design and preparation before moving into the implementation phase.
Change can and should be a very exciting proposition! Ensure that you start on the right foot so that you and your organization benefit in the long run.
“Be the change that you want to see in the world.” Gandhi
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