Today I spent a couple hours with a roomful of really remarkable people at a retreat for development professionals at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. That would have been great enough, but I was also fortunate enough to spend a portion of that time sharing my thoughts on dealing with change. Below are the broad strokes from what I shared during my time with this wonderfully inviting (and funny) group of people.
Change is inevitable
Believing you can resist change long enough to avoid it is a fool’s errand. It’s coming and you can’t stop it. Instead of spending your energy resisting change, spend it managing and influencing the change that is unavoidable.
You are not a victim
…unless you choose to be. You may not be in charge of the changes coming your way, but you are always in charge of the way you react. If you view yourself as powerless to influence the changes happening in your world, you will be. Instead, choose to look for the opportunity and possibility that abound during times of change. Maybe you just can’t see the positive outcomes that are around the corner. Your attitude and the way you leverage your influence can have a fundamental impact on how the change plays out.
It’s not really “change” that irks you
Change falls into two categories: change you want and change you don’t want. It’s not really the change that you don’t like, it’s the discomfort you feel when dealing with change you don’t want. If your boss showed up tomorrow and said she wanted to take your advice on how to make changes to improve your department, you would likely be ecstatic about that change. It’s when your boss shows up to introduce change that will make your work more complicated that you start to bristle. You don’t fear change, you fear discomfort. Welcome to the club.
Picture a positive outcome
What if, instead of dwelling on the immediate discomfort of the moment, you took a few moments to project what might be better as a result of the changes at hand. What results will make the discomfort worthwhile? How will your work/family/church/club be not only different, but better?
Describe what you did along the way
Imagine yourself reveling in that positive outcome. You’re not really there yet, but imagine you are and describe what you did to get there and how were you changed. Don’t say what you WILL do, make a list in the past tense as though these things have already come to pass. (Hat tip to Chris Guillebeau for his essay that exposed me to this idea.)
When it’s your turn to initiate change…
Don’t forget to listen to the people who will be impacted and help them understand the value. Be sensitive to the fact that you are likely creating discomfort for others and guide them toward an appreciation of how the temporary discomfort will be outweighed by the positive outcome. Don’t try to trick or manipulate them, but share your vision in a way that gives them the opportunity to become advocates instead of adversaries. It’s your fault if they don’t understand your vision.
(If you can’t communicate the value of the change you are making, please make sure it actually exists.)