The four stages of dealing with change in the workplace

Be the person in the office that embraces and works with any change thrown at them. It will be key to your career success.

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What kind of changes are you dealing with in your job and workplace? These days nothing ever seems to stay the same for long in our working lives. Revised job descriptions, new bosses and reporting lines, updated processes and systems, restructuring and cost cutting … the list is endless. Sadly we all seem hard-wired to feel uncomfortable and even hate such changes as it forces us out of our comfort zones. Too often we respond with mixtures of ­panic, resistance, procrastination, friction, anger, anxiety or stress.

Truly successful people have learnt to accept and embrace the introduction of the new and go with the flow of upheaval in their work environment. They understand that change is inevitable and cannot always be avoided or ignored. So much of how we deal with change relates to our mindset and choices about how we choose to react in the face of different information. There seems be a predictable process that people pass through when facing any kind of change in the workplace. Such a process has been compared to the stages of how people grieve when their loved ones have died. The four broad stages are:

1. Ignoring and denial

2. Anger and upset

3. Fighting and resistance

4. Adapting and acceptance

You might be lucky and pass through to stage four very quickly, but chances are you become stuck in one or more of the first three stages. I do not know of anyone who, when faced with change can honestly say that they never acted in denial, got angry and upset or fought and resisted. All humans exhibit at least one aspect of these three stages, even if only for a short time.

If you find yourself choosing to ignore and deny a revamp at work, ask yourself why. Perhaps you have a habit of delaying difficult conversations. Perhaps you have grown to dislike bad news and you view change as a bad thing. Overcoming one’s denial is about altering your mindset and in my experience you might need the help of your colleagues or a coach. I recommend asking a couple of trusted colleagues to tell you as soon as they sense that you are ignoring any adjustments happening around you.

If you are someone with a pattern of getting upset or angry in the face of change, you might need more than that. In extreme cases, you might benefit from seeking anger management help or the services of a therapist of some kind. How­ever, such drastic action is rarely necessary. Instead, simply become more mindful and pause before you react. Again, trusted colleagues could tell you to stop as soon as they sense you might be emotionally overreacting.

Fighting and resisting any work shuffle can be a self-destructive and addictive habit and I know of many otherwise great employees who have been fired for going against what their boss or organisation wished to implement. At the risk of oversimplifying, you must learn to accept what you cannot change and do not oppose that which you do not wish to accept.

Older colleagues who have mature wisdom might be the best role models to learn from. They have been through and learnt from these scenarios many times in their lives and careers. Aside from poten­tially having grey hairs, they often seem to react more calmly, be more reflective and listen well when some kind of restructure is happening to them or around them.

Understanding and accepting the need for change is never easy. But if you can be seen by your bosses as someone who readily flows with and embraces it and attempts to see the positive, then you are increasing your value.

Starting today, be that colleague who is always OK at having to leave their comfort zone. Your mindset and attitude will become indispensable in helping your organisation to grow and move forward through whatever revamp it needs.

Nigel Cumberland is leadership and executive coach, trainer and author in Dubai, who has written books that include 100 Things Successful People Do: Little Exercises for Successful Living, and is a founder of The Silk Road Partnership