How to thrive when dealing with change

February 10, 2021 - 14 min read

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Adapting to change in the workplace

Two key tools for change

Measuring your adaptability to change

Gaining mastery over change

Accept the change

Whether we like it or not, change and transitions are constant in life. We often use them interchangeably. But what’s the difference between the two? 

"If you can't change it, change your attitude."

Maya Angelou

Change, unlike a transition, is a single moment or milestone in life: the death of a parent, a new job, or getting married.  

Change can come on suddenly and requires psychological rigor and adaptability. Partnered with a subsequent transition, change can also lead us to new places of resolution and personal maturity.

Because of constant changes in the business world, it’s essential to not only accept change but also leverage it for personal growth.  

Everybody is different when it comes to change. Some people can become excited about a pending company reorganization, while others may feel terrified. Change can feel threatening. If you fall into the latter category, it’s important to seek out the support of your colleagues, practice self-care, and leverage the professional help offered by a coach or therapist.

What’s also interesting to note is that our stress around change doesn’t necessarily have to have a negative impact

According to health psychologist and Stanford lecturer Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., our negative perception around change can be more debilitating than the actual stressor itself.  

So, if you believe that change is harmful, the associated stress will negatively affect your health and well-being. 

However, if you believe that common stress reactions to change — such as a palpitating heart or fluttering stomach — are normal reactions, they can create feelings of vitality and enthusiasm that can actually make you perform better.

In this article, we’re going to give you actionable advice regarding change, including how to deal with it in a healthy way.

Adapting to change in the workplace

Change in the workplace can be particularly stressful because it triggers our primal instincts around safety, survival and status. This can drive us to question our own ability to adapt. 

 “Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.”

John Maxwell

But the very nature of work and our ability to grow is tied directly to change.  Change is unavoidable, and the sooner we can develop coping skills, the easier we can thrive in an ever-shifting environment. 

In other words, change and transition are inevitable, and we all must learn to navigate them. 

But even though change in the workplace may be difficult, it often represents an opportunity to display highly valued skills like adaptability and resourcefulness. 

Additionally, it represents the chance to develop new skills, unearth new opportunities, and create value for your company in unexpected and unseen ways.

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Two key tools for change

Two of the key tenets of coping with change are adaptability and flexibility. 

Adaptability is the way in which we alter our own previously held beliefs and notions to fit a new paradigm.  

For example, if your company has been acquired, you may have to adapt to an entirely different way of working. Finding acceptance and adapting when faced with inevitable change can lead you to a place of peace and resilience — especially when a change of structures and processes is not necessarily our own.

“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

Wayne Dyer

Flexibility on the other hand is the process of meeting others halfway with the rollout of new procedures and ideas.  

Work, by its very nature, is in constant flux as businesses respond to the marketplace. Denial and resistance to this change create pain and tension.  

By remaining flexible, we allow both our fellow workers and ourselves to grow, evolve, and build resilience in the face of change.

Measuring your adaptability to change

How well do you adapt to change? If you’re not in denial of the inevitabilities of change, take a moment to assess your own comfort level when adapting — and even thriving — through shifts in your work and personal life. 

 “Any change, even a change for the better, is always accompanied by discomforts.”

Arnold Bennett

The following questions can be a guide:

  • When a change is looming do you start to take anticipatory action, or do you passively wait for change to happen?
  • Do you seek out the support of others when you’re navigating change, or do you withdraw into yourself?
  • Do you find the fear of changing even more overwhelming than change itself?
  • Do you gracefully cultivate an attitude of acceptance that allows you to move beyond any setback or shift in your workplace?
  • Do you easily accept conflicting feelings like dread or excitement that can emerge with any pending change?

If any of these questions sound familiar, below are some simple steps you can take to increase your ability to adapt to change. 

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Gaining mastery over change

Leverage humor

One of the best ways to navigate change is by not taking yourself, or your situation, too seriously. 

In other words, try to find the humor in any life shift

At work, humor can be a little trickier. Remember that self-deprecating humor is always acceptable, but don’t make jokes at another’s expense. Note also that if a change will have a more significant impact on others than on you, proceed more cautiously with humor to avoid seeming callous or tone-deaf.

Not only will humor lighten your experience, but it can also dramatically shift the experience for others around you. Your team looks to you for cues for how to interpret the situation.  

“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.”

Alan Wilson Watts

See the opportunity

With every change comes great opportunity.  

It may not feel that way at first as organizations restructure and plans get shelved, but people who can maintain their composure during times of transformation can often find new avenues for growth and advancement. 

Look for areas where you can gain skills while at the same time strive to understand the new playing field that’s emerging.

Manage the stressful feelings

Any change or resulting transition can bring with it feelings of anxiety, loss, or grief. 

Cultivating self-awareness through moments of meditation or reflection can help you to become aware of those stressors and learn to accept them. 

Nervousness, sweaty palms, and a churning stomach can all be related to change and new beginnings. The best course is to realize and accept this as completely normal given the changing circumstances you may be encountering.

Support others

Sometimes the best antidote to change-related worry is to stop focusing on ourselves and start helping others

How can you best support a coworker who is feeling anxious about a corporate reorganization?  

How do you comfort a colleague who has had an important project canceled?  

Answering these questions and taking action can help soften the edge of your own change issues while providing greater purpose and meaning to your life.

Practice a positive attitude

While it may seem Pollyanna-ish, putting on a positive face while enduring the worst of challenges can often soften their sting. 

The benefits of Positive Psychology have long been documented, but it’s clear that positivity can serve as a balm when faced with stressful change. 

In the midst of a transition, remember to keep your mind open to new possibilities that carry the promise of a positive outcome.

Pay attention to what you can control

When you’re in the midst of a change, the feeling of having no control can often emerge. 

This sense of powerlessness can set the mind reeling on an emotional downward spiral. But in reality, even in the most dire situations, we have some modicum of control. 

If you’re encountering feelings of helplessness, focus on those things you can control.  When we remember that we’re not completely helpless in a changing situation, we gain an empowering sense of agency.

Practice good self-care

The anxiety and stressors that often surround change can have a direct impact on our bodies and emotional state. Our mental well-being can suffer.

That’s why it’s essential to get adequate sleep, exercise regularly, and eat a healthy diet. Attending to your physical well-being is more important than ever.

A well-rested and balanced body can better handle the roller coaster of ups and downs that come with change and subsequent transitions. 

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Accept the change

Change impacts all of us differently.  Some can easily ride the waves of change while others go kicking and screaming. 

“Some changes look negative on the surface but you will soon realize that space is being created in your life for something new to emerge.”

Eckhart Tolle

Wherever you stand on this spectrum, remember that you ultimately have one goal: acceptance. 

Leverage the previous techniques to get you there faster and limit unnecessary suffering along the way. 

Cultivate self-awareness and understand how change can affect you physically, emotionally, and mentally. 

With time, you can utilize these strategies to befriend change and make it your ally as you encounter the natural vicissitudes of life.

 
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Published February 10, 2021

Robert Carroll

BetterUp Fellow Coach

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