Let’s face it, no one loves change—especially the kind that’s forced on you.
It’s even worse when you’re a manager and are surprised by, or even in disagreement with, an organizational shift. And what makes it harder is that as the boss, you lose the right to simply gripe over it at happy hour with the team. Your job requires towing the company line and rallying your troops.
Here are five ways you can adjust when a workplace shift hits you in the face:
1. Give Yourself Time to Let Your Emotions Defuse
As social psychology professor and researcher Jonathan Haidt puts it, “The emotional tail wags the rational dog.” Emotion guides more decisions than we consciously know.
When change happens to us, we go to an emotional place first, and can get ourselves in a swirl of thoughts about how unfair or awful a decision is.
To compensate, give yourself some space (physically remove yourself from others and allow yourself time to process) to let your reaction settle a bit, even if just overnight. Use the pause to be sad, mad, fearful, or shocked.
Share your feelings with a confidant, preferably a trusted peer or someone outside of work. This is your time to process before going to your team. You want to be in the most rational place possible before addressing others.
2. Find Part of the Change You Can Own
It’s tough to deceive your team (not to mention it can lead to worse things down the road), so while you may not be able to hide your emotions completely, try to find some aspect of the change you can authentically agree with or support—for the sake of your role as a company leader.
Feel bad about a downsizing? Perhaps you truly believe it’s best to work for a company that can plan for the long term. Not happy with a restructuring? Consider what the new structure could offer your team.
Get behind the message and make it your own. Practice adaptive authenticity, as Professor Herminia Ibarra describes in an article on Harvard Business Review. Even if it doesn’t feel exactly right at first, the more you practice the more natural it will feel.
3. Be Straightforward With Your Team (But With a Point)
Recently, a client asked me how honest she should be after her company was acquired by a competitor known to have an uninspiring culture. Is it best to be honest in an effort to build trust?
I’m always a fan of being straightforward, but you need to know why you’re sharing what you’re sharing. As a leader, you have an objective to keep morale and productivity up. In that case, it can be heartening to hear how you have personally struggled with the change, but don’t stop there. Also include what you have found to be hopeful or opportune about it.
For example, if announcing a corporate change that you don’t fully support you might say, “I’ll be honest, I didn’t like this announcement when I first heard it. But after talking to leadership, I’ve come around to the fact that it’s the first step to addressing the market vulnerabilities we’ve all noticed.”
4. Call Out the Emotions You See
When tensions run high, your impulse as a leader can be to tamp down emotion and invoke a “keep calm and carry on” approach. But, as discussed in the first point above, emotion is part of any change. You can ignore it, but that doesn’t make it go away.
Instead, leaders can help manage the change by speaking directly to it. If you see behavior being governed by fear—say, team members not collaborating in an attempt to exert control—mention it. When anger rears its ugly head in a meeting, make it a point to discuss it—it can be as simple as saying “We can all sense the frustration in the room. I understand it. Let’s discuss how to channel it productively.” Similar to an apology, acknowledgement changes the dynamic of a conversation.
If you role model a confidence that these emotions are normal, expected, and able to be confronted, others will take your lead. By sharing how you’ve managed your own feelings, you show that you can hold an emotion but not be beholden to it.
5. Hang Out With “Change Surfers” to Stay Afloat
Change is a wave. While the swells may differ, the pattern is consistent. There tend to be people in any organization who ride the waves better than others. These “change surfers” are good to have in your orbit as sounding boards, idea generators, and bursts of inspiration.
Because the truth is that leadership is emotionally taxing even in a calm environment. So it’s essential to find people who lift you up and keep your energy positive. You set the tone for everyone who works with you. If you’re not confident and optimistic, no one else will be.
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said that the only constant in life is change. That maxim continues to be truer than ever.
Change can lead to fatigue and burnout, especially if you’re trying to resist or mitigate it. The good news is that we get better with experience. The more time in a leadership position, the more chances you’ll have to practice dealing with change.