By Peter Lyle DeHaan , PhD
Change happens. And the rate of change seems to be accelerating. We experience change at home, at work, and in our community. Change happens in our country and around the world.
When considering change, there are three general truths: change is opposed, change is a loss, and change is mourned:
Change is Opposed
The change represents a deviation from the status quo, from what can be expected, regardless if it is good or bad. The change represents moving from the known to the unknown. Therefore, it is normal that people will oppose change and resist it to whatever degree they can. This might mean clinging to the old ways, lobbying against the change, or rebelling by acting out, offering resistance, or passive-aggressive behavior.
Change is Loss
All change means giving up something—even if it is something bad. Many people view change as a “zero-sum-game,” which implies that there are winners and losers. When things change, they assume that someone else must have won and therefore they have lost. This assumption is natural when the change that is taking place was not their idea.
Change is Mourned
When something is lost, that loss is lamented and grieved. Sometimes the loss is perceived (it didn’t happen) or potential (it might happen), whereas other times it is real and tangible (it did happen). Regardless, the emotional reaction to that loss is mourning. Just as there are steps to grieving (be it five, seven, or ten), mourning the loss wrought by the change will progressively proceed down a similar path.
However, it doesn’t need to be this way. Change can be accepted if it is understood, occurs in small increments, and is within the control of those affected by it. This trio of suggestions may not offer much relief when we’re confronted with the global or national upheaval that is foisted upon us, because those situations are not within our control, nor do they generally occur in small doses—though we can seek to understand them. But this advice is helpful when responding to changes in our personal lives, like children marrying and moving on, or work situations, such as layoffs, job cuts, restructuring, office closings, and wage freezes or pay cuts.
In these circumstances, we can make a reasonable and successful effort to accept and even embrace change:
Change that is Understood
We can best accept and deal with change if we understand it. That doesn’t mean we need to agree with the reasons for the change, merely that we comprehend why the decision for change was made.
Change in Small Increments
Change made over time and in small doses has a much better chance of acceptance and becomes more manageable. This gives time for a chance to sink in and adjust mentally and emotionally as the change transpires.
Change within Control of Those Affected By It
Whenever people can experience some degree of control over a change, they are more likely to handle it positively. Providing options is significant, as is allowing people to have a degree of input into the change.
A final consideration is directed at those who make decisions for change. Yes, it will be opposed, viewed as loss, and mourned, but you can take steps to greatly minimize those responses by communicating the reasons necessitating the change, making the change in small increments over time, and providing as much control as possible to those who will be most affected by it.
In the end, we might not escape change, but we can alleviate some of the negative reactions to change. That is how to succeed at dealing with change.