“Who moved my equipment?” I demanded to know. It was hard enough to wake up this early in the morning and put on my sweats. When I walked into the gym, all the equipment was changed around – topsy turvy – with the free weights where the squat racks used to be. The regulars and I kept bumping into each other and the equipment as we attempted to recreate our usual routines, to no avail. As we all complained to each other about the new layout, I suddenly started laughing. I realized how much I sounded like the now classic mouse line of “Who moved my cheese?” In this case, I was the mouse who didn’t want her cheese moved at all.
When we read about change and/or are the initiators of it, it’s easy to get smug about our perceptions of ourselves as “change agents.” Even when you say you want change, if the outcome is shaping up to be different than what you expected, change is disconcerting. I’m reminded of a CEO we worked with who wanted a plan that took his company to the next level of growth. In addition, he wanted help in “transforming” the culture to one that was more receptive to change. He opened our first session stating that he wanted to “encourage out of the box thinking” and was “receptive to the team’s ideas on where the company needed to be in the next 3-5 years.”
As the participants began to brainstorm new directions, you could see the CEO’s discomfort grow in his non-verbal (arms crossed; frowning; smiling at only those who agreed with him) and later in his verbal communication (Yes, buts; interrupting those who had a different view; making remarks like “that’s too costly” or “we tried that before”.) In debriefing the day, the CEO admitted that he was surprised by his own reaction and at times, he felt like he “went on autopilot” and didn’t realize how closed he was behaving.
We can understand change cognitively. Handling it viscerally is another matter, especially if we feel we’ve had no control over the change and it just happens. Although there’s no tried and true approach, there are three things about change that are important to remind yourself about when you are experiencing it:
- Change brings an end to a way of doing something or of relationships – it is a small death of sorts and with endings, come a variety of feelings. Be conscious of how you are feeling and remember to acknowledge the past, even celebrate it before forging ahead.
- People handle change better when they have some preparation – feeling blindsided or not having a chance for input can be disconcerting and make you resistant.
- Change is an opportunity that can help usher in a new way of doing things – realize that you may be uncomfortable during the transition time between the ending and the new beginning, yet this is the time where you are most likely to innovate and create something that you may not have anticipated before, so hang in there.