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managing change

How to Help People Manage Their Emotions Just Before a Change

Most people behave differently
just before they experience a significant change. Supporting people when they
must bridge their current and future circumstances can make the difference
between a successful or unsuccessful transition. 
During this time, most people express
emotions associated with anticipation—excitement, fear, anxiety, blind
optimism, sadness, etc. The spontaneous nature of these emotions leads to their
amplification. Not managing them leads to distraction and poses a risk to
taking on new ways of thinking and acting.
Since people express different
emotions at different times with different intensities—minimizing the
likelihood of experiencing them is a more productive approach than just addressing
them after they are expressed.
So how do you help people through
this short, but intense, phase of transition? Here are some actions you can
Encourage people to appreciate
what they are leaving behind
Every individual aor group has
traditions and practices that define them. Reliving these practices either through
doing them or storytelling can provide closure to the way things were.
Remind people of the benefits of
what they are taking on
Although this is something that
is important through all stages of change, it is essential just before people
take on new and often uncomfortable ways of behaving. Remembering the ‘why’
behind the change can help justify the anticipated pain of experiencing it.
Offer multiple types of support
as people take on the change
Demonstrating how people will be
supported through their transition can reassure them that they are not alone. Easily
accessible assistance can help minimize the anxiety caused by thinking about the
unknown. Offering multiple types of support demonstrates commitment and builds
confidence that things will be okay.
This week, my family has been
anticipating a significant change. Our eldest son, Sam, is going to university
in Halifax, Nova Scotia, 1,800 kilometres away from our home.
My emotions have been varied and
intense–everything from pride and excitement, to sadness and nostalgic longing.
It has been distracting, but I have been determined not to let it be a risk to our
transition. Here are some actions we have taken:
Encourage people to appreciate
what they are leaving behind
Sam has had many get-togethers
and a party this week. Making them fun and festive was our family’s priority.
We have also spent a lot of time doing and reminiscing about our traditions.
Remind people of the benefits of
what they are taking on
This is an easy one. Sam is
entering an exciting time in his life where he will gain new experiences and
meet new friends. Living in a new city will be an adventure too. He is going to
grow in many ways and everyone is talking about his journey.
Offer multiple types of support
as people take on the change
We have turned Sam’s move into a
family vacation. Barb and Sam are en route to Halifax, and Charlie and I will be
flying today to join them. We will be with Sam for three days followed by
numerous video and phone calls, correspondence. He may not have time to
Helping people manage their emotions
and behaviours before they experience a significant change directly impacts
their ability to successfully make their transition. This is true of business
and personal changes. A few actions can help ease transitions, as we are
finding out now.


Trains, Planes and Automobiles

I thought of the Steve Martin and John Candy’s movie Trains, Planes and Automobiles when I was stranded in New Jersey on Tuesday.

It was a busy week that started with an early Monday morning flight to Newark followed by a day and a half of client meetings.  

I rarely take afternoon flights but I needed to be home the next day for an HRPA Conference speaking engagement and book signing. I remember Morten Hansen, the co-author Great By Choice, saying that he never travels on a speaking day because of unforeseen delays. I didn’t want to test his rule.

At 10:49 am, I received a text from Air Canada informing me that my flight had been cancelled due to weather. I had been rebooked on a flight at 6 am the next day (the day of my session). It was inconvenient but my flight would still arrive seven hours before my 3:10 pm start time. I toyed with the idea of driving home but the 10 hour trip and loss of sleep didn’t make sense.

Throughout the morning people talked about the big storm that was about to hit the northeast coast. The first snow flakes fell at 8 am and by 12 pm the storm was in full swing and most people had gone home. 

By 3:30 pm, visibility was low and there were six inches of snow on the ground. I left the office with my fellow traveler, Tim, to buy a change of clothes at the local Marshall’s. The roads were slippery, especially since our rental car did not have snow tires.

Back at our hotel I received another text from Air Canada: My 6:00 am flight had been cancelled (due to weather) and I was rebooked on a flight the next morning at 8:40 am (the day after my presentation!).

“Dread” is the best word to describe how I felt. It was possible that I would miss a speaking engagement at the one of the largest conferences in Canada where over 100 people had signed up for my sessoin. The car option was back on the table.

Tim and I analyzed the problem. How important was the commitment? Extremely important – cost was not an issue. What were my options? Planes, trains and automobiles.

The train option didn’t work due to schedules. The car option didn’t work either: New York City’s mayor declared a state of emergency and hotel staff shared stories of four-hour commutes. I wouldn’t make it through the storm.

Plane was my only viable option. Although Air Canada had cancelled all of its flights, Tim located a Porter Airlines flight leaving Newark at 11:10 am. I would arrive in time for my session as long as the flight was less than 90 minutes late. 

I had kept the conference coordinator apprised of my situation since the first cancelled flight. Also, my wife, Barb, was on stand by, ready to meet me at the airport with a suit. The only thing left to do was follow the plan.

I got to the airport two hours ahead of my flight. The calm of the deserted airport seemed at odds with the magnitude of my challenge. Even the border guards and coffee baristas were chatty, which I would have enjoyed under other circumstances. I kept thinking, “take off on time, take off on time”.  We did. 

I arrived at the conference centre with 55 minutes to spare. I tested my slides with the tech team and was settled in my room before the first attendee arrived. I opened my session by saying, “The hardest part about working in change management is following your own advice when you are managing personal change.” My planes, trains and automobiles story was an effective metaphor for organizational change.

In managing change, you do the best with what you’ve got. Sometimes it works and other times it doesn’t. The only thing for certain is that you will have a good story to tell when it is over.


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