How to Make Changes at Work, Work for You

By Jim Dawson

No matter how we feel about it, the one thing we can always count on is that things are going to change. What we may not realize is that how we handle change affects the quality of our lives. Whether it is a new CEO, market opportunity, corporate vision, product line, or job responsibility, any change in our work life can generate strong emotions. We may feel joy, hope, and enthusiasm. But more often change frightens us. If we aren’t ready for it, we can become anxious, depressed, or angry.

When we learn how to manage change effectively, we become less afraid of the unknown and more excited about the opportunities it may bring. We also become a greater asset to our organization and to those around us.

When it Happens, What Can I Do? First of all, understand that there is nothing wrong with feeling uncomfortable when your patterns and routines are disrupted. It’s human nature to prefer a certain amount of stability and predictability. When a change at work threatens your sense of security, think about some of the changes you’ve been through that you initially resisted but later embraced because you saw the benefits. It may not have been easy, but things did get better. From this point of view, you can make a more objective assessment of the current situation. By asking yourself “What can I do?” rather than “Why me?” you will be well on your way to making change work for you.

The Four Stages of Change: An awareness of the four stages of the change process will help you manage your expectations and your personal response to it more effectively.

  • Change: The change event happens. In this stage, emotions are heightened. A lot of people fear change because don’t know what it is all about. If the individuals affected by the change don’t understand or agree with the reasons for it, they may feel anxiety, dread, or resentment.

  • Resistance: Once the initial emotional response is over there is usually a period of resistance. During this stage you may hear, “This will never work.”  “They don’t have a clue what they are doing.”  “The way we used to do it worked just fine!”  “I’m not going to do this unless I have to.”  “They’ll have to prove it to me first!” 

  • Compliance: In this stage people begin doing things the “new way” even though they are still feeling some resistance. They may say, “I don’t like it but I’ll do it.”  “I’ll go along with this for now because it will never last.”  “O.K., I’ll do it but I don’t agree.”

  • Acceptance: The new way of doing things becomes the norm. In fact, the new norm has become “the good old way” that people cling to when the next change comes along.

With a general understanding of how people move through change, there are four specific steps you can take to benefit from the changes around you.

How to D.E.A.L with Change: How well you deal with change depends on your internal barometer. If the face you put on for the rest of the world and how you feel inside are not in alignment, it affects your potential for success, as well as everyone you come into contact with on a daily basis. To successfully manage change, you must first align your feelings with your actions.

  • Don’t react – do respond: What is the difference between reacting and responding? When you react, you feel and act without thinking. When you respond, you think first, suspend your automatic judgment or reaction, and then you choose your emotions and your actions.
    People have a tendency to react to change by thinking the worst and imagining undesirable outcomes. “Life as I know it is over!”  This is when you need to take a deep breath and ask yourself, “How do I really feel?” because how you feel depends on how you interpret your experiences. If you determine that your uncertainty and fears are legitimate, you can move to a place of self-empowerment by becoming engaged in the change. By choosing not to be a victim, you will immediately see things differently. Instead of focusing on the negative, you will focus on positive alternatives and the best possible outcomes.

  • Engage Your Personal Power: Engaging your personal power is about reaching inside yourself to find the willingness to change, to persevere, and to help others.   It's about maintaining a positive approach in your thoughts, words, and emotions so that you stay energized and ready for new challenges. Your personal power will be greatly enhanced if you maintain your sense of humor and keep your business and personal life in balance.
    If you can keep an open mind and employ tact, common courtesies, and patience, and be tolerant of ambiguities, you will sidestep most of the confusion and misinformation that accompany any change event.   It's during this "period of chaos" that an individual with a level head will stand out.

  • Acquire facts and information: Be proactive about your situation. Learn all you can about the change and why it is taking place. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to help you determine where you are in relation to where the organization is going. Do your research. Find out which products and services are going in and out of vogue. Learn more about your industry and the current trends in your marketplace. Having accurate information gives you a stronger feeling of control over what you can do and who can help you move toward your potential future.

  • Leverage your skills and abilities: When you are confident about your abilities and the talent you bring to the workplace, change will be less threatening. Constantly inventory the skills you have and pay attention to changing requirements in your field. When you find a gap, close it. If your skills are current and in demand you are employable.
    Building your professional network is almost as important as honing your skills. The more people you know, the more people you can ask for referrals, guidance, and advice. When you are ready, tap into your network and your resources to make plans and act on them. If you are engaged in making the most of your situation, people will notice.

In essence, the best way to deal with change is to always be running toward something you want, not away from something you don’t want. By aligning your feelings with your actions, asking the right questions, sharpening your skills, and developing your network, you will be amazed at how you can turn change into just the opportunity you were looking for.

Remember, change is inevitable. It’s up to you to make it work for you.

Read other articles and learn more about Jim Dawson.

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