Being a Change Agent: Dealing with Change Positively
Before you can think about leading others through change, you need to be
aware of how you approach the change yourself. What do you do when
faced with change? How do you feel? What is your Attitude
to change? How do you
Behave? How do you react? What are the Consequences
of your behaviour? These are the ABC of handling change –
Attitude, Behaviour and Consequences.
How self aware are you in times of change? Do you feel as if you
are facing threats or opportunities? Are you more upset or more
pleased by what you are facing? If you don’t know how you
are feeling, you cannot begin to deal with it for yourself. Once
you understand what you are feeling – and your Attitude to that
feeling, you can start to work with that, deciding what you are going to
do (Behaviour) and what this can lead to (Consequence). Then you
can also begin to see the signs of how others are behaving so you can
start to understand how they might feel (checking it out to see if you
are right) and then manage your relationship to help them work with
their own reactions to the particular change that is being faced.
The Process of Change
We find it helpful to have a model to look at – the Change Cycle. A
model is like a 2D map of what is happening and like a map, it is not
‘the territory’, but it can help you to pinpoint where you are. It
helps you to identify what stage of change you may be in - and then work
out what moving forwards might be like and how you might do so.
Rosabeth Moss Canter said, “Change is disturbing when it is done
to us, exhilarating when it is done by
us.” What if we could take the change being ‘done to us’ and make
it into something that is done by us? By understanding the cycle
of change and how you move through it, you have a chance to do just
that for yourself and to help others.
There are several models ‘out there’ around what happens to people when
they are faced with change; we find the one based on Elizabeth
Grief Cycle useful.
The Grief Cycle
Grief is one of the most profound of human emotions particularly
associated with death and loss. Although all change is not as
grave as losing someone close, the cycle of emotions we go through in
grieving reflects the pattern of emotions often experienced in facing
other changes. Change can often appear to be some form of loss –
whether it is loosing a job, losing stability, losing your ‘place’ – as
in moving house of moving office etc. Uncertainty stemming from
the possibility of change can trigger the cycle of emotions by
shaking the foundations of your ‘stable state’.
This can be shown in the chart below which indicates the roller-coaster
ride of activity and passivity as the person twists and turns in their
desperate efforts to avoid facing up to the change.
The initial state before the cycle starts is received is known as
‘stable’, at least in terms of the subsequent reaction on hearing the
bad news – and compared with the emotional ups and downs to come.
And then, into the calm of this relative paradise, a bombshell bursts...
Stages of Grief/Change Cycle
- Shock Stage: Initial paralysis, ‘immobilisation’ - freezing at hearing
the bad news.
- Denial Stage You just can’t believe it. Trying to avoid the inevitable.
It can’t be true. Maybe it is a bad dream and you’ll wake up.
- Anger Stage: Frustrated outpouring of bottled-up emotion. It must be
- Bargaining Stage: Seeking in vain for a way out.
- Depression Stage: Final realisation of the inevitable.
- Testing Stage: Seeking realistic solutions.
- Acceptance Stage: Finally finding the way forward.
First you look at where you are. This is not always easy as we tend
to go round some parts in the cycle a few times before we find a way to
move forward. To move through the cycle, you can use questions
(see Newsletter No. 4) to help yourself move from one stage to the next.
You don’t necessarily have to go through each stage although most people
For instance, if you know that you are in the depression stage, come up
with some questions that would focus you on searching for some realistic
Let’s say you have been told you are to be made redundant, it’s a while
since you were told, and you now know there is no way out (no mistake,
no alternate role in the company and so on), you will have to leave your
current company in a few weeks time. You can start to change your
feelings if you can focus on questions such as,
- What could I do next?
- What opportunities are there out there
- What would I like to do?
- What gives me energy and the moment (to look to do more of that) and
what robs my energy at the moment (to look to do less of that)?
For another example, let us say that you’ve just moved house – perhaps
you’re an empty nester and you’ve downsized – and you need to come to
grips with less space, fewer rooms and different set up. You’re
angry – there isn’t enough place to put everything. To move
through to the next stage you could ask yourself questions like:
- Remember why we made this move? What benefits are there?
- What is nice about this house?
- What is better about this house that the other house didn’t have?
- Who am I being when I try to blame someone? Do I like who I am
being? Who would I like to be instead?
Just as there is a negative cycle of emotions experienced when you aren’t
happy about the change, there is also a positive cycle. Not all people
experience change as a bad thing: some people can see a benefit to a
change, or they may just like change and experiencing something new.
In the first stage of positive change, You are excited and intrigued by
the change. It looks great and you can’t really see any down side.
You look forward to it with eagerness and anticipation, building a very
positive and often overly-optimistic view, for example that it will be
much easier for you and it resolve all of your current issues.
And for a time there is a 'honeymoon period', during which you are realy
happy with the change.
This doesn’t last, however, and the happiness diminishes as reality
starts to set in. Things have not all fallen into place, other people
have not magically become as cooperative as you expected, things are not
as easy as you expected and in fact the current issues aren’t resolved.
This pushes you into a period of gloom when you realize that things
aren’t going to work out as you had expected/hoped. You may grumble, but
you don’t get as depressed as in the negative change cycle – although at
this time, you could switch into that cycle.
Then you start to accept reality and see the positive parts of the change
and the potential that is there for you. You start to make plans
Eventually, you feel happy with the new environment and can move forward.
You may be happier, but at any rate, you are not unhappy and you feel
you can work towards the potential that is possible in the new
We believe that although you may not have a choice about what happens to
you, you do have a choice about how you react to it and choice as to how
you feel. Do you agree that you can choose how you react and how
you feel? Do you think that the people you work with think they
have choice in those respects? It makes a difference in how you
deal with change.
The most debilitating and energy sapping part of change is when you feel
that it is being done to you and there is nothing you can do.
If you search for what you can do, any little thing that you can do in
the circumstances, you start to gain in self-esteem, to feel more as if
you are in control (even if only just a little bit). And it starts
to be a little less unpleasant.
Change will only work if an individual (that is YOU) chooses to change.
If someone chooses not to change, there isn’t much you, or your
organisation, can do. There is always a payoff for not changing
too – what do you think it is for you? And for others with whom
you work? Why might that make it difficult to shift people?
Is there any question you might ask to get people thinking?
When you begin to understand yourself and how you feel about and deal
with change, you can look at how to lead change in your organisation.
�Patricia Lustig, 2006