This exploration of change will be conducted in three parts. Part one will look at how change affects people. Part two will explore some historically important changes and how they were handled. The third part will show the result of an organization incapable of dealing with change; that is, groups either being unable or unwilling to take the necessary steps to adapt to the elements of what is changing.
You would think that the speed with which change is happening around us, the latest smart phone, software updates, &c, that we in the twenty-first century wouldn’t be bothered by the shifting sands of change under our feet. That isn’t always the case. What I want to address is how we think, feel and act in the face of change. Whitney Young, Jr, former director of the National Urban League, said “Change has a considerable psychological impact on the human mind. To the fearful it is threatening because it means that things may get worse. To the hopeful it is encouraging because things may get better. To the confident it is inspiring because the challenge exists to make things better.”
Indeed, four stages of reacting to and dealing with change have been noted by psychologists: Shock and Resistance, Confusion, Integration and Acceptance. Certain behaviors can be found in most people when confronted with change, though I will only provide a brief overview of each stage.
Shock and Resistance. The natural reaction to change, no matter from which quarter it comes, is to be taken aback. There are a few behaviors that pop up almost instantly
- The status quo is much more preferable to the new situation.
- Fear of the unknown prevails.
- Feelings of resentment or loss of control.
- Status and authority seem to be threatened.
- Opportunities become threatened or diminished.
- Assumption that new roles will have to be developed.
- Seeking information.
- Resentment continues by those seeing others who adapt quicker.
- Us vs. Them feelings arise.
- Seeking clarification of what the change might bring.
- Identification and expression of the coming issues.
- Optimism begins to replace depression/confusion/previously held norms.
- Anxiety decreases.
- New relationships are sought out.
- Opportunities are recognized.
- Individuals no longer feel threatened.
- New systems put in place.
- New relationships formed.
- Opportunities realized and engaged.
The time that it takes to go through all four stages is dependent upon a great deal of factors. What exactly is changing? How does it affect long held beliefs, values or systems? What are the initial thoughts/feelings of the individual concerning the change? Besides these, many other issues go into how one behaves in the face of change.