|Breathless in the face of change|
The pace of change the past several weeks has the days flying by. We are counting our own days in dog years and it’s hard work just catching our breath. If, on top of everything else, workplace change is a part of this time for you, that can add to the disorientation you might be feeling.
What can you do?
I have a process I use in my work with clients navigating their way through changes at work and I want to share it with you here. I hesitated to send this out just now, and here’s why: this process is all about action and big yang energy. While some of you are feeling hungry to get moving and impatient to take flight, others are feeling like hunkering down. I trust you to know pretty immediately if this is the right time for you to engage with the process of harnessing change. If you experience any resistance just thinking about engaging with this post, honor that. Put it aside and pick it up some other time.
What characterizes change?
You can think of change as when we expect one thing and instead we get something else. When we are faced with a change we did not actively choose, it can be painful. Change events often come with uncertainty and a lack of control; a gap between the reality we are living and the meaning we can attach to the new reality.
Workplace change comes in many forms; here are a few:
Shifting priorities: e.g., change in company strategy or lines of business.
Re-orgs: new reporting structure, new boss, new colleagues.
Pauses: furloughs, deals put on hold, billable work dries up. Departures: cherished boss or co-worker leaving.
Endings: job loss, company closure.
Here are some less-obvious change situations that happen at work:
Surprises: You get caught off guard in a meeting by new information you were not prepared for.
Losses: The team decides on a course of action and it is the opposite of what you think is right.
Differences: You are working with someone with a different perspective.
Feedback: You receive feedback from your boss; the expectation is you will respond by changing yourself.
How can we embrace change when we are in overwhelm, disappointment, or fear?
Viktor Frankl, an Austrian psychologist who spent several years in Nazi concentration camps, believed the strongest impulse in life is the search for meaning (more so than food, sex, or money). When Frankl witnessed the suffering and death around him in the camps, he observed that those most likely to survive were those oriented toward a meaning or a purpose that would be fulfilled by them in the future.
Survival on its own — survival for survival’s sake — is not enough.
Instead, we must ask, survival for the sake of what? The point is, as Frankl discovered and later wrote about in Man’s Search for Meaning, when we find meaning or purpose, we can root ourselves in it. That rooting permits us to make choices and take actions that align with or even advance that meaning or purpose. And that enables us to survive. That rooting also sets us up to dig deep and find the resilience necessary to go beyond basic survival to navigate the kind of change I’m writing about here.
I work from this premise with clients moving through change and upheaval, using the combined effects of Meaning, Choice, and Action to activate the client’s own resilience and move from there instead of from fear. Keep reading if you want six steps and a free tool you can use to do the same.
|Think of a change you are navigating.|
It could be the big one we are all navigating together right now with the current public health crisis. Or it could be something that feels personal to just you. Try working through these six steps to identify any shifts you might make in your current relationship to this change and to form a plan based on what is within your control. (Note: this process is of course not intended to be used on its own for devastating change involving matters of life, death, or basic survival.)
1. Recognize reality. Let yourself be disappointed for a finite period of time, then do your best to move through that feeling so you can bring your energy back to the present and to what’s meaningful to you.
2. Identify purpose or meaning. Look for where you can find meaning in this situation. If it isn’t easy to locate yet, try allowing meaning to be as straightforward as choosing Growth (e.g., you might say, I hate what’s happening right now but I will find ways to grow through this event and I know I will be stronger after).
3. From there, move into choice. Your first choice may be to bring your meaning or purpose into the foreground. A second choice could be to funnel data and inputs through the lens of that purpose. A third choice right now could be choosing a behavior or characteristic that connects with your purpose (e.g., if your purpose is Growth, then perhaps a wise choice would be choosing curiosity over fear).
4. Then, move into action. Start by identifying what is in your power to control or influence. And what is not. Understand the powerful difference between ceaseless striving and acceptance. Ceaseless striving is focusing your efforts on things you actually can’t do anything about; acceptance is choosing not to focus your efforts on things outside your control. Understand that there is also a powerful difference between giving up and mastery. Giving up is not taking action on things that are within your control or influence, while in contrast, mastery is taking action on things you can control or influence. Get the Navigating Change Powerfully Tool (free) if you want help working through this step.
5. And don’t forget support. Another part of action includes what you can do to support your mindset. What will help you continually ground you in your purpose. Make a list of people, practices (yoga, meditation or other contemplative practices, quiet time with your loved ones), or structures (calendar appointments, attention supporting apps, online group meetings) to support you staying in the choices you make as you work through these steps.
6. Focus. If you start to feel unfocused, try to bring your focus back to your own behavior as a possible source of desired change. If you don’t believe these six steps will help you, why not just try it? Like I said, I’ve used this process to help so many clients work through unwelcome change events, so I know it works. Now go get ‘em!