Another saying that has stood the test of time was stated by the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, who said, “The only constant in life is change.” So, if change is so inevitable, why aren’t we taught to deal with it more effectively?

To manage change well, we need to really be aware of how we process it, our perceptions of change and our reaction to change in our lives. Much of how a person deals with change depends on the character attributes of that person, however, it also depends on how they are taught or learn how to deal with it.

When change inevitably occurs in organisations, it is, most of the time, accompanied by strong emotions. However, we are generally not used to showing our emotions in a work setting, and therefore we tend to diminish or ignore negative emotions. Moreover, those leading the change are more likely to focus heavily on the change vision and corresponding roles and responsibilities and not enough on managing employee acceptance and, more importantly, the adoption of the change.

Many a time, leaders, as drivers of change, don’t fully embrace that everyone wears change differently, and therefore fail to provide genuine productive outlets for employees to express themselves throughout the change life cycle. We need to appreciate that change involves a growth mindset, which needs to be directed.

To understand how your team deals with change, you first need to understand your change processing methodology and then translate this into actionable insight to lead your team through change. But how does one do that?

1. Recognise and embrace change symptoms.

Accept that it is normal to feel emotions such as fear, frustration, or anxiety as a consequence to news about change. These emotions are generally the first reaction a person has when there is a ‘perceived’ threat, and it puts him/her in a high alert mode. It is our evolutionary human ‘fight or flight’ response. Therefore, as such a reaction is expected to varying degrees of intensity depending on what is being communicated, it is important that we learn to accept and manage such emotions in a positive manner.

2. See change as an opportunity.

As mentioned, our first reaction to change tends to trigger negative emotions in an attempt to safeguard ourselves. This is because emotional responses are faster than rational thought, as they are processed through different channels in our brain. Emotional response is processed through our Amygdala whilst rational thought is processed through the Cerebrum. So, although our first reaction to a change tends to be emotionally charged, allowing ourselves time to process what the change would actually mean and applying rational thought is important to tackle issues logically. It is basically all about perception. The more easily one accepts change and sees it as an opportunity, the quicker and better one would become at dealing with it in a positive manner. This allows the person or team to move ahead instead of wasting time challenging change that will happen just the same. Moreover, seeing how any change can be transformed into an opportunity is essential to communicate change effectively to a team. Be aware that your attitude towards change and motivation will affect how the transformation will happen.

3. Understanding options to maximise your position.

When a person or team goes through a difficult time or experiences tough/stressful emotions, the challenges present signal opportunities for the individual or team to grow and evolve. A leader should use such a situation to the team’s favour by strengthening the support the team members give each other and gelling the team together. If a leader manages to do this, the team will emerge more tightly knit than ever before.

On a personal level, you can also reflect on your attitude to change and its outcomes. Take this moment to think about the most challenging change you’ve ever experienced in your career and reflect on one good thing that came out of that change. Channelling this positive perception of change will allow you to think positively of changes that are yet to come.

4. Emotional contagion

As a leader, you also need to keep in mind the power of emotional contagion. This is basically the domino effect of emotions from one person to another, or better still, in a team. Elaine Hatfield describes how people who observe the emotions and behaviours of another tend to copy those emotions and behaviours. For instance, when someone smiles joyfully, those around them are more likely to feel happy. The same counts for the attitude to change. As a leader you need to be aware of the energy you emit and the attitude towards change you project. Is it positive energy or not?

You therefore need to take a conscious decision and decide what kind of energy you choose to adopt and take ownership of the energy you output. You can do this by using intention and focus to channel your emotions and decrease tension created by change. You can then separate yourself from emotions of change to be able to think rationally rather than emotionally. Most importantly, you should never diminish the value of emotions themselves both for yourself and also for your team members.

5. Power of emotions.

Keep in mind the power of emotions. Emotions can serve leaders in the journey to become more effective and compassionate leaders. To be able to do this it is essential that one goes through a phase of introspection when dealing with change and asks “Why am I/the team feeling this way? What thoughts and perceptions are making me/the team feel this way?” You can then fuel action and claim control over your situation.

It is important to understand that emotions are made up of energy, and energy can neither be created or destroyed. It can only be transferred, transformed or conserved. Imagine it like a charged battery where the energy needs to be used. So, when a person is experiencing negative emotion and energy during change, although it might feel good, in the moment, to act out on the emotion through anger or frustration, in the long run it is more important to transfer this energy into productive, positive power.

6. Ownership

You are responsible for what happens to you. Some changes are imposed, however, how you experience that change is solely up to you. How you show up is a choice. Your leadership brand is your choice. Are you that leader that others feel inspired and empowered by? Are you that leader that is sought after? Are you the person everyone wants to work with? The answers are triggered by your choices.

I hope that the above elements will help you perceive change with a different viewpoint. If we perceive change as being positive, we become empowered to transfer positive energy into growth. Growth is made possible through conscious choice. And you have the power of choice. As a leader, you can transform emotional energy into fuel to inspire, engage and empower. You have the power to transform negative emotions into positive ones. Fear and anxiety to anticipation and excitement for what is to come.

So, will you choose bitter or better?

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