September 16, 2021

6 steps to dealing with change at work

At work and in life, the only constant is change. The COVID-19 pandemic was unique in forcing a sudden change in every facet of our lives. Our social, economic, and personal lives were completely and suddenly upended. Change of any kind is challenging; change on a global scale can be absolutely overwhelming.

All change, big or small, is manageable if you approach it with the right tools. Whether it’s for yourself, your company, or even your family, change will often manifest in similar ways, present similar challenges, and bring about similar responses. If you know what to expect and how to respond to it, change in your life can go from a burden to an opportunity. 

1. Accept that change presents challenges.

Unexpected change presents many challenges. It can cause a lack of clarity and frustration with new circumstances, result in you not feeling valued or heard, and distract you from your primary responsibilities. Turning change into opportunity starts with accepting the reality that change is the only true constant: pandemics and other disruptive forces will come out of nowhere and there’s just no way to stop them, and that’s okay! Once you’ve accepted that reality, you can ask yourself “now what?”

2. Recognize your reactions.

We all have an instinctual response to change, some set of coping mechanisms we gravitate toward without thinking. Ask yourself what these are for you. We call this recognizing your reactions, and it’s a key step in exercising mindfulness about any change happening in your life. Who or what are you avoiding? Has your demeanor changed? Are you finding less fulfillment in your work than before? Maybe it’s none of those. Maybe it’s all of them. Whatever the case is for you, think hard about how this change is affecting you. Now ask yourself this: What is helping me and what isn’t? Sometimes our emotional instincts are a good way to avoid unnecessary stress. Sometimes they just make things worse.

3. Zoom in.

Now that you understand how these circumstances are affecting you, it’s time to zoom in. What exactly are you anxious about? Remember, anxiety is fear of something that may happen, not something that is happening or has happened. Ask yourself: what is your worst-case scenario? It may be uncomfortable to think about, but if it’s causing you anxiety, then your worst-case scenario is already living rent-free in your head. Now ask yourself, is this anxiety based on assumptions, or is it based on facts?

Sometimes our emotional instincts are a good way to avoid unnecessary stress. Sometimes they just make things worse.

Just like our emotional and behavioral responses to change, anxiety can be a helpful response to certain situations. It can discourage us from putting ourselves in a dangerous position, or motivate us to change the circumstances that cause our anxiety. In order to discern between helpful and unhelpful anxiety, we have to discern between what is based on facts and what is based on assumptions. If you base your anxiety on assumptions, ask yourself what information you’re missing. What data, support, or input would make you feel more grounded and in control?

4. Move to solutions.

Once you understand the realities of change, recognize your reactions, and zoom in on the problems you’re facing, the next step is to move through those feelings and toward solutions. The most powerful way to do this is to look at your values and long-term goals and identify a guiding principle or “north star.” Allow yourself to take an incremental approach toward your north star. You’ve figured out where you are, so now it’s time to figure out where you are going. It’s ok to go slowly! In fact, it’s usually best to avoid rushing things.

The important thing is that you are moving toward something valuable to you. Maybe your north star is a new coding language or another skill you want to learn. Maybe it’s a promotion or a certain salary. Maybe it’s more personal than that. It doesn’t matter what your north star is, just that you have one and are orienting yourself toward it.

5. Remember: change management is leadership.

In the workplace, change often comes all at once and in big unexpected ways. If you’re feeling stressed out about sudden change, chances are your coworkers are, too. In the same way that teaching a skill is a great way to learn it, helping others navigate the change you are all experiencing together is a very effective way to help yourself do the same. You have an opportunity to share a life raft and a sense of control amid the tumult, both to yourself and to others.

One of the main factors that makes change manageable is understanding the reason behind the change. Humans are naturally uncomfortable with things we don’t understand, so the more information you can share about why the change is happening, the easier it will be to make sense of and adjust to it. This works best, as most leadership techniques do, with clear communication and transparency. Always keep your colleagues in the loop about where this change is coming from and where it’s going.

6. Create the positive.

Once you understand how to navigate change in the workplace, you can turn that unexpected change into a new opportunity for your personal and professional growth. Create the positive out of this new situation: What new skills can you gain from this experience? What untapped strengths can you showcase? Where can you step up and add value?

Take a deep breath. Give yourself credit for persevering through change.

If you’d like to learn more about this process of finding the positive, check out our webinar, “Change is the only constant,” presented by Bravely Pro Arielle Sadan.

Take a deep breath. None of this is easy. Few things worth doing are. Give yourself credit for persevering through change; no doubt you’ve done plenty of that in the last year and a half. We’ve talked a lot about questions to ask yourself through this process, but I promise there’s just one more: What have you learned for next time? After all, change is the only constant and we will run into fresh changes tomorrow. How are you going to turn that change into an opportunity?

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