Given the fast-moving nature of today’s economy, change is inevitable and necessary for businesses to survive and thrive. Yet our strongest emotion is fear – and there is no greater fear than that of the unknown.
We may often have discussions with colleagues about how we wish our line manager, job role or work culture were different. Yet when change is imposed on us, it activates the threat circuitry in the brain, making us feel deeply unsettled. We’re wired to crave predictability, stability and control, so organisational change can throw us into a state of uncertainty and panic. Even positive change, such as a promotion, can trigger anxiety, borne out of fear of failure – or even fear of success.
So how do you manage change? If you’re facing the prospect of reorganisation, new management, relocation or changes to your role or responsibilities, here are our top tips for managing your fears, and finding ways to adjust and flourish in your new environment.
Tip #1 – Accept that change happens
Like anything in life, acknowledging change is the first step towards managing it. The Buddhist concept of impermanence is based on the notion that all existence is transient or in a constant state of flux. Yes, everything may have seemed rosier ‘back in the day’, but it’s important to let go of old promises, expectations, ways of working, people, and even places. Holding on tightly to an image of the past prevents you from tackling the reality of the here and now.
Tip #2 – If you can’t be happy, be optimistic
Think in terms of possibility rather than impossibility. Your new situation may not be ideal, but your previous situation probably wasn’t perfect, and you dealt with that, didn’t you? You may have to come to terms with the loss of colleagues that you care about, but with today’s social networks, there’s no reason not to stay connected, even if they move to a different department or company. And the good thing about change is it can prevent you from getting bored by presenting you with fresh challenges or the opportunity to master new skills.
Tip #3 – Offset your fears with flexibility
Take some time for self-reflection and write down all your fears about the impending change. Sometimes, just seeing them in black and white can give you a sense of perspective. Then think about what you’ve already accomplished, or how you have successfully navigated change in other aspects of your life, and how you can apply this knowledge to your next goals. List any skills you’ll need to acquire and questions to ask about your new direction, because the more you know, the better equipped you’ll be to hit the ground running.
Tip #4 – Focus on what you can control
If your company is restructuring, there may be talk in the media about the future of the business, disruption by competitors or other public speculation that can make you feel like a small cog in a monumental mechanism. Instead of getting stressed by things beyond your control, focus on your own actions and specific tasks that can give you meaning and fulfilment, while keeping an eye on the bigger picture.
Tip #5 – Lean forward
Don’t sit back and wait for announcements or rumours– talk to your boss and your boss’s boss and ask constructive questions to elicit meaningful answers. Try not to get caught up in negative conversations with colleagues, which can be distorted or exaggerated by their own concerns. Help others cope with change while you find your own feet – some temporary turbulence can be a great way to establish new camaraderie.