Posted by: Kristen Ridley | June 17, 2013

Ch-ch-ch-ch-change!

DoorThere’s been a lot of change in my life over the past few months. So much, in fact, that I have had all I could do to manage it and keep the lights on of the rest of my day-to-day. So I haven’t had the luxury of time to think, which is the only way I have the inspiration to write, hence the big gap since my last post.

But things are starting to settle a bit I think [fingers crossed!] and in the last while I’ve been reflecting on change – how it happens, how it feels, the impact it has on every other aspect of life when it comes, and most of all, how we deal with and manage its effects. And as always, I process things by writing about them, so I’m back.

Because I am a communicator, and especially because I work in a corporate environment, I regularly have to communicate changes as part of my work. Sometimes those changes are positive and upbeat, and other times they are bad news or difficult situations. So I spend a fair bit of time thinking about how best to share information about change in ways that are helpful and respectful, and, ultimately, successful. I like to think I’m pretty good at counselling the people I’ve worked with and for, throughout my career on how we can approach change and the communication of it in ways that are helpful. And you might think that it would then follow that I could translate the ability to deal with change easily into my life because of my experience with dealing with it in my work, mightn’t you? Yes, well, not so much, necessarily!

Somehow, all the careful strategy, and thoughtful consideration of pros and cons, and messaging and sensible approaches to change management that I’m so good at when I’m in the office goes right out the window when it’s MY change, and it impacts MY life – go figure 😉

For some reason when change comes barreling into my life, I unexpectedly revert to a two-year-old, who, when confronted with something she didn’t request, and isn’t at all sure she wants, I fervently wish I could fling myself to the ground and scream: “BUT I DON’T WANT THAT!!!” Can you relate? [I sure hope so, cause otherwise, I now look really silly].  But anyway . . .

Like it or not, change comes, and it almost always comes when you are neither looking for it, nor necessarily prepared for it. But change doesn’t ask us if it can make an appearance, and the one thing I DO know, is that I can – once I send the mental two-year-old back into my subconscious, of course – use the change-management skills I’m so good at wielding at work to deal with personal change as well.

The changes I’ve had lately have been clustered together in a big bunch and in figuring out what do about all of it, I reminded myself about the best approaches I know to handle change. And, since they work whether you’re dealing with professional or personal change, I figured I would write them down here, first because I can use the reminder, and, second, I thought maybe others could find some use in them too.

In managing change successfully, I try to remember that:

  • Before you can manage the change, you need to fully understand what it is and what it means – at work, we look at who the change impacts, what the impacts are, and how the changes can be integrated into the current environment. In life change, I have to do a similar exercise – the who is always me, but sometimes others as well. The what can be a good thing [like a great new job with BIG opportunities and even BIGGER challenges] or a sad thing [like the decision of a new co-worker I’d become very fond of to take a new job, not just in a different company, but a completely different province], but whatever it is, I need to step back and get a mental handle on it before I can figure out how to manage it.
  • You can’t communicate too much – in delivering professional advice on change-management, I tell my business partners this frequently. It’s a funny thing, but when big change is on the horizon sometimes people think it best to “wait until we know all the answers before we communicate” – you hear that from senior leaders sometimes during change, and they mean well, really, they do when they say that. But they are wrong, because you can’t stop people from getting information anymore, no matter how good you think you are at controlling access. And if people don’t get the story “officially” they WILL make it up, and the made-up version is almost always worse than the truth could ever be [take my word on this – sometimes the stuff that comes out of the grape-vine is worthy of a Sci-Fi channel TV-show it’s so far off the real situation]. In your personal life, it’s the same – when we are moving through change, we sometimes close up and shut the door and “assume” we know the whys and the wherefores of the thing [and we all remember what happens when we “assume”, right?? Exactly] and how the other people involved are thinking and feeling. So as difficult as it is, we need to force ourselves not only to share our feelings about change, but to ask questions and get the answers. Very often those answers help to deal with the change on a concrete level, rather than an emotional one, which is just always a good thing.
  • One thing at a time – we communicators love a plan. We love a strategic plan even better. And a strategic plan is based on breaking the big hairy deal that is “the issue” into nice, organized, bite-sized pieces so that we can create action plans that are manageable and sensible and “do-able”. This approach also helps to keep the hysteria and drama that tends to accompany change to a reasonable level. All that works in “real life” too. If you think people at work get all het up about a change, try doing it with people who know you deeply and who are “all up in yo bidness”! Hoo, boy! Because THOSE people, well they know where all the buttons are, and they will push them, too! All the more reason to have a plan and go to it when things get nutty. Sometimes when life gets all change-crazy, the only way to handle it is to have a plan and work it. Because while you may not be able to control the other people in the equation you CAN control yourself, and sometimes, if you seem in control and okay with how things are going, the other people will calm down and go with you. And if not, well, at least ONE of you is calm.
  • Remember the objective – communicators ALWAYS do this when they are working. Our objective informs all the other steps in the plan, and we continually link the other steps back to it. Will this help us meet our objective? Do these activities make sense in relation to what we are trying to accomplish? Will taking this approach get us closer to the objective or create complexity and obstacles to doing so? Same deal in life. The difference is that in life we sometimes can’t maintain that professional distance that allows us to answer these questions objectively. When it’s about YOU, rather than “them” suddenly the stuff we know goes out the window. But if we can remind ourselves that there’s an end-game, and it will have pros and cons, and we can handle it either way [because frequently we don’t have a choice] things tend to go more smoothly. It’s also important to remember that change almost always has both good and bad aspects, and while it’s human nature to focus more of our attention and energy on the negative parts of change [probably because they are the scarier aspects] there ARE good aspects too, and while it make take time to identify how a change is going to eventually be good for us, it usually does happen in myexperience, so I just have to keep telling myself to be patient [which, sadly, has never been something I’m particularly good at, try as I may]
  • You have to Breathe – just breathe. This, of course, is good advice in nearly any situation, but it is particularly applicable when one is dealing with change. Change is “BIG” and it’s “SCARY” and it’s “COMPLICATED” and “I DON’T LIKE IT”. Yeah, well, life doesn’t care – not at work and not in the personal arena. Life gives us change and we have to deal with it. I myself always find breathing through it far preferable to holding my breath till I turn blue and fall over [not only is that highly unpleasant as an experience, it makes you look REALLY unprofessional if you do it at work . . . or, that’s what I HEAR, anyway ;-)] A deep breath can work wonders on a stressed and overwhelmed mind, and 8 or 10 of them can give you just enough Zen to go back to dealing with the change a little more under control. If nothing else, it’s good for the diaphragm, so you won’t sound like Betty Boop anymore as you are talking to the other people . . . or, is that just me THAT happens to as well??? Ugh!

I keep telling myself that I now have change under control and that the next time it happens it won’t even phase me – I will sail through it serenely and efficiently and thumb my nose at it. Um, how’s that working out for me, you ask? Well, let me just say: “Hahahahahahha!”  But I’m working on it, and every time I get through another one, I get a little bit better at it. At this rate, I figure I should have it nailed right about the time I kick the bucket. But hey! At least I will go into the hereafter with a plan!

How about you? How to YOU manage change? I would LOVE to hear your tips, because I can use all the help I can get! Thanks!

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