Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher, is quoted as saying "change is the only constant in life." This is something I have used and shared with others when faced with unexpected change or transition. Being mindful of this fact helps us all accept what we cannot change and move forward with a bit more ease. It's a practice that requires a sense of, and commitment to, one's self-awareness. So I ask, can you count the number of changes that have occurred in your life, personally or professionally, over the past week or month? Whether you are consciously aware of it or not, something is different. What changed and more importantly, how are you managing?
If you are reading this blog post, chances are you have experienced some sort of unexpected or unwanted change and have felt the uncertainty or frustration that comes with change and transition. Keep in mind that stress also accompanies change with positive intentions or outcomes. Intellectually, we know that acceptance and adjustment are vital to managing stress associated with change. However, grasping and dealing with these emotions often presents the biggest challenge. William Bridges, a change and transitions thought leader, left us with a model to help move through change and transition with more control and ease. His theory is based in the understanding that 1) change is situational and just happens, and 2) transition is psychological. Bridges offered a three-phased model to help people accept and move on.
The Bridges Model defines change as an external event that requires some sort of action and transition as the emotional response to include perception, feelings, and attitude toward that change. Three distinct phases help clarify what’s happening and what to expect, which may provide encouragement through the process. Phases of the model are: 1) Endings, 2) Neutral Zone and 3) New Beginnings. Bridges suggests that being able to experience the emotions and uncertain characteristics of each phase builds strength and confidence, which is preparation for upcoming or ongoing changes in life.
The first phase carries feelings of loss, hostility, anger or depression. Appropriately named Endings, it involves letting go, a difficult course of action for most. Mourning the loss of the status quo and being able to vent are crucial to moving beyond this stage. If you are trying to help others through a transition, it’s important to allow them sufficient time to grieve while vigilantly focusing on the opportunities that change may yield. Endings will end naturally, but keep an eye on those who have difficulty adjusting after an extended period of time. The key to managing any negative emotion while in this phase is to recognize what you can and can’t control and to remain open to accepting the change.
The second phase is the Neutral Zone. Chaos and uncertainty prevail in this stage; the old way is no longer acceptable, and the new way has yet to be established. Ambiguity decreases productivity and morale. Ironically, creativity blossoms as people begin to brainstorm on possible alternatives and create opportunities for a new or different way. If this is a workplace change, leaders must become the stabilizing force. Emphasize what has not changed, focus on any short-term or familiar activities, and continue to share information—the more, the better. If that information is confidential or not immediately forthcoming, share what you can and inform others of limits you may face. Honest communication will ease anxiety and make unwanted news more palatable. Upheaval is natural in the Neutral Zone; stay with it as you move into the third phase, which is New Beginnings.
Evidence of New Beginnings is a renewed enthusiasm, a demonstration of acceptance for what has changed. Productivity and morale begin to increase. Because everyone arrives at this stage at a different pace, it’s imperative that the early adopters help others recognize what can and can’t be controlled. It only takes a few stragglers to slow down the entire group. Because people can be in more than one phase at a time, practice lots of patience and know that this too shall pass.
Just as Heraclitus said, change should be expected. If you keep the Bridges model in mind, you’ll have help to manage yourself and support others during periods of transition.
Change is inevitable, embrace and move with it!