Leading In Uncertain Times: The Importance of a Positive Attitude to Change

Hi, I’m Nicola from The People Mentor. In today’s podcast, I want to talk about how people react to change, especially if it’s unwanted, and how it’s possible for you and your team to come to think about change, and even uncertainty, more positively.  

Most of us have experienced change in our personal and professional lives in the past year on a scale we’ve probably never seen before, and we’ve had to feel our way through when everything has seemed so uncertain.  

But when it comes to change, there are two certainties: 

It’s an inevitable part of life; 

Most people won’t like it. 

The latter is especially true when change is unwanted and unexpected.  

Everyone reacts to change differently, though there are some common responses to change that occur in most people. If you understand these, you’ll be able to see that they are perfectly normal responses and you might also get an insight into how you can ‘do change’ better in your organisation.  

When change happens, you’ll probably notice or come to realise these things about yourself or your team: 

There’s a feeling of discomfort 

People are creatures of habit and generally don’t like anything that disrupts their way of doing things. The requirement to get rid of the old and embrace the new can make people feel uncomfortable. 

People will focus on what they’ve lost 

This is what causes resistance to change in many people. Rather than being able to see how a change might be of benefit, most people will focus on what they’ve lost as a result of the change. These feelings of loss can almost resemble grief, and as a leader, it’s your job to be sympathetic to the fact that some people will experience feelings like this.  

Everyone experiences, and reacts to, change differently 

It’s common for people to feel isolated during change, and as if they are the only one experiencing adverse effects. It’s important that you make people feel like you understand their situation and be as supportive as you possibly can, so they don’t feel like they’re struggling to deal with the effects of change on their own.  

Too much change at once can be emotionally and physically detrimental  

The pressure of constant change can be hard to bear, so make sure you communicate with employees openly, honestly, and consistently about what changes are happening, why they are happening, and what you will be doing to offer support.  

Some people are excited by change, and some feel threatened 

Readiness for change is influenced by a lot of factors, not least personality, how secure and happy someone feels at work, and experiences they may have had in the past.  

Some people are excited by the thought of change, others find it distressing and threatening. Some people are adaptable, while some people will resist any kind to change.  

This is why communication and collaboration is important. Listen to, and try to understand everyone’s views and concerns about change, and try to come up with solutions that are satisfactory for most.  

People will feel unprepared for change  

This is common, and is a given when change is rapid and unexpected. In an ideal world, everyone would have the time to prepare for change, learn the necessary skills, and have time to come to terms with what it really means, but as we’ve seen for ourselves in the past year, things don’t always happen this way. The thing to do as a leader in this situation is to be as practically supportive as you can. Treat change and the way you adapt to it as an ongoing process; review processes and plans, identify any training needs, upskill your people when necessary, and consider how you and your team can be mutually supportive as you move forward.  

So all of the responses to change I’ve just mentioned are completely normal and expected, especially in the face of rapid, unexpected, and undesirable change.  

As a leader, if you offer emotional and practical support wherever you can (as well as giving yourself time and space to think about your feelings, and get support if you need it), this can go a long way to helping yourself and your people feel more positive about change.  

Nurturing more positive feelings and responses to change is crucial, since how people feel and act as a result of change can strongly impact on their performance, and if change has a negative effect on them, this can impact on your bottom line.  

When people are resistant to change, they either consciously or subconsciously behave in ways that are aimed at maintaining the status quo. When everything else is heading in the opposite direction, all this is going to do is to make them feel uncomfortable and tense, which inevitably makes them less engaged and productive.  

To adapt successfully to change, everyone has to be on the same page. If the change is unwanted, it doesn’t mean that everyone needs to agree with absolutely everything about what is happening and why it’s happening, but it does mean that people can agree to be constructive and learn to respond to change in a more positive way.  

Change is more palatable when we accept our initial feelings about it, allow ourselves to grieve and feel angry or whatever it is that we are feeling, and then try to be constructive and reframe it. We can do this by: 

Understanding what we can and can’t control (and focusing our efforts on the former) 

Responding to change creatively and looking for opportunities that could arise as a result of change 

Knowing that there is more than one way to handle change and do it successfully 

Acknowledging, and using, our own strengths and resilience, and those of our team 

Do this and you can grow and thrive not despite change, but as a result of it.  

What could you and your team do better and achieve by thinking about change more positively? There’s some food for thought.   

I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s podcast, and I’ll see you next time.  

This is The People Mentor, signing off. 

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