The wind of change, whatever it is, blows most freely through an open mind. — Katharine Whitehorn
I’ve been told more than once that I’m not an ideal role model concerning change. (To be candid the characterization is absolutely correct.) I tend to balk at the mere whiff of a change — holding on to hope that it won’t ever come to pass. Then adjusting my course will not be necessary. Honestly, this can be a problem.
As you may have read in this post, I’ve been known struggle with even the smallest of changes, muddling along until the “new normal” finally appears. Until that moment, I feel somewhat annoyed and completely out of sync. For better or worse, my “go to” reaction is to delay a change until I can carefully consider every aspect of the situation. Unfortunately, holding time at bay isn’t always an option.
All things aside, I firmly acknowledge the value of flexing our workplace “change muscles”. Yet, knowing ourselves is likely the very first place to look when building these muscles. We all have a leading predisposition when faced with change, which likely represents our collected experiences and given temperament. Of course, this will influence our orientation and initial reaction to change, as well.
This is where things get tricky. (If you manage others, reflect on what this may mean for your team.) We need understand and accept our own tendencies and recognize how this may affect our response.
As a professional who advocates for needed change — here are a few of the predispositions which I’ve observed over the years:
- Piners or Grievers. These individuals lament the coming of change, even when it is inevitable or necessary. They may grieve for the roles, policies, procedures and co-workers of days gone by. They do move on eventually — but often with decreased fulfillment, satisfaction and a measure of sadness.
- Researchers. An unbridled need to gather information is the leading response for this group — as examining the issue from all angles often helps them move forward. Unfortunately, a leading by-product is “analysis paralysis”. Another issue: time may not be a negotiable. (This would be where I fall, although I pine at the start.)
- Supporters or Embracers. These individuals are generally open to change and feel excited to contemplate the future. They may not be the primary driver of that change, yet are happy to see the possibilities and help things move forward.
- Alarmists. For these individuals an impending change triggers intense feelings of urgency. This could lead to premature or risky career behaviors that negatively affect them longer-term. (Such as quitting on a whim, etc.)
- Dreamers. This group always manages to see the best in the current situation, even when there is overwhelming evidence to move on and accept some kind of change. (I would add there is a mild level of complacency operating here). Because of this perspective, they might miss opportunities to properly plan a place for themselves in the new “order” of things.
- Observers. Usually quiet and calm, these individuals take a solid “wait and see” approach. They rarely panic — and prefer to watch things unfold organically. They might superficially support the change, but may eventually exit if the change eventually is perceived as negative.
- Aggressors or Terminators. These individuals feel anger when they are faced with an unexpected change. They may become a strong “naysayer”, vehemently opposing a change and could exhibit negative behaviors without reflection.
After drafting these, I searched for other frameworks that capture how we process change. I happened upon the Kubler-Ross Change Curve, which applies the seminal model of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross concerning grief, to change efforts within organizations. (This theory states that we all move through specified phases when dealing with change, rather than identifying a leading emotion that we deal with over time.) I thought it wise to mention it here.
Where do you fall? Have I missed your leading orientation toward change? Share your style in comments.
Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial & Organizational Psychologist. A charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program, her posts on workplace topics have appeared at Harvard Business Review, The Huffington Post, US News & World Report and The World Economic Forum.