Embracing and Driving Change: At Work and In Life

"Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like."

— Lao Tzu

Embracing and driving change are two behaviours that are highly sought after in today’s world of recruitment. Workplaces with a tech and improvement focus are frequently expanding on and shifting processes, meaning our environments always changing. Across all roles and industries, being open to change improves resilience and positive wellbeing – and therefore, increases productivity and retention. Whether your goal is increased wellbeing or increased productivity, learning to embrace change is a key development opportunity. Happy workers are productive workers – a win-win outcome for both employers and employees.

Openness to change means a few different things. Firstly, accepting when things don’t go the way you expected, and not to resist or create excuses, but to embrace the opportunity that change creates. This kind of mindset fosters resilience and creativity, because we overcome challenges more easily when we see unexpected changes as opportunities, rather than barriers. Secondly, coping with change involves being comfortable with ambiguity and risk. Driving change sometimes means delving into the unknown, without knowing the exact outcome, but the best outcomes sometimes come from taking measured risks. Taking risks can be effective for growth, especially when we have confidence in our tools to manage the result.

Accepting change in the workplace starts with learning to accept change in all areas of life. We all deal with change. Whether it be the frustration of cancelled plans, or as significant as the death of a loved one. There are three stages of accepting change, which guide our transition from a mindset of unmet expectations, to a mindset suited to our unexpected conditions.

Transitions For Accepting Change

Stage 1: Grieve and accept the past

Stage 2: The Middle: shed old habits and form new ones

Stage 3: Embrace your new self: an adapted person who does things differently now.

The death of a loved one is one of the top 5 most stressful things we experience as human beings, requiring major adjustment and transition. During stage one, it’s important to allow yourself to grieve the loss and eventually accept what’s happened. In stage two, we shed the habits we’re used to: maybe the loved one was a source of support for you, maybe they helped you with things you now struggle to manage alone. This is where we shed old habits and form new ones – sourcing new support and resources. This stage might take years in this context, but eventually leads to stage three, where we thrive using our new strategies, and embrace new ways of life. We may never master the art of immediately coping with these kinds of change – because some changes are so unexpected and debilitating that we naturally will struggle to cope. But the changes we face at work are more manageable, and the better we deal with change throughout life, the more resilient we are to difficulties of all shapes and sizes.

Implementing small changes in life can help build up resilience to cope with day-to-day frustrations and the larger challenges that come along. You can create small and manageable change by breaking out of routines and encouraging yourself to take spontaneous options where possible. Simple examples are experimenting with new foods, or taking an unknown route on a walk or jog. More effortful examples are travelling without planning an itinerary, or trying novel experiences like skydiving.

However, who wants to spend their life doing things they don’t actually like? I probably won’t enjoy my life if I’m constantly ordering a long black when I really want a latte, or I’m forcing myself to skydive when I really just want to watch a movie. This creates cognitive dissonance, the feeling of resistance when our actions don’t align with our values (I value lattes, clearly). It’s better to do things that align with our values. But we need to learn to embrace diversity and change – so how do we do this without compromising the things we enjoy?

You may think you enjoy change if you’re an adventurous person who loves variety, but everyone naturally resists some kinds of change. When change is interpreted as threatening, the amygdala releases hormones to help us fight or flight, so the body can respond to threats. Common reasons for resisting change at work include; perceived lack of competence to deal with change, lack of trust in the organisation, and fear of the unknown. Therefore, people who don’t interpret change as a threat are less likely to have a defensive bodily response, and are able to see the benefits of change.

We need to adjust our perspective of what change means. Humans are naturally resistant to change because it threatens what is safe and predictable for us. For example, I drive the same way to work every day. I could take a different route, but it’s a risk – I don’t know exactly which roads to take and it could be slower, or it could be quicker. I’m probably not going to take the risk because the route I currently take is good enough.

So, what if the route isn’t good enough anymore? The traffic is unpredictable and I’m sometimes late for work. This is when change becomes more appealing – because I have a reason to change, and the dissatisfaction I have with the current route outweighs the inconvenience of changing my route. This idea can be applied to all sorts of change: for example, in the workplace, employees are likely to get on board with organisational change when they feel the reason for change outweighs the inconvenience/cost of change itself. In 2020, a collaborative approach to change leadership is trending. When a directive approach is taken to change, it’s more likely to be interpreted as a threat. However, if employees understand and agree with change initiatives, and are consulted in the process, they are open to change – and the process will be smoother.

In regards to developing an attitude to change in oneself, irrespective of having a reason, we must adopt a learning mindset. Curious, improvement-focused people are lifetime learners. There are endless benefits to curiosity, such as reduction of anxiety through mindfulness, but that’s another story. The point here is – if we look towards the future, and are interested in learning, we’re more open to change, but if we spend too much time focusing on the past or current procedures, we are rigid and closed-off towards new experiences. If you want to improve at embracing change, get excited by the fact you don’t know everything – it’s time to adopt a lifetime-learning mindset.

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