Understanding the Emotions of Change

Understanding the Emotions of Change

Change is an inevitable and constant part of life. From the small, everyday shifts like a new brand of cereal or toothpaste to the significant milestones like Covid 19 or changing jobs, change surrounds us at every turn. Change can often be met with resistance or fear. After all, humans are habitual creatures. We are happy with how our lives are working and we don’t need something to shake us off our anchor. We like the comfort blanket that consistency and routine bring to our lives. However, ignoring the reality that life happens and things will inevitably shift, is naive.

Change generally requires us to leave our comfort zones and embrace new circumstances. We tend to resist change because we are attached to the familiarity and routine of our current situation, even if it may not be ideal. The fear of losing what is comfortable and moving away from our routine is a significant barrier to embracing change.

Why is routine so important to us?

What is it about routine and habits that make us feel safe?

What is it about change that really scares us?

In this blog we will explore resistance to change, why it happens and how to support yourself and your team through the change.

The Routine Safety Blanket

We all have certain habits and routines, which can vary greatly from person to person. You may need to set 10 alarms to wake up. You can’t start your day without having a cup of coffee. You only shop at your local supermarket because it’s affordable and you love their brand of products. You are that person that takes tea bags on holiday because you can’t risk a day with your ol’ faithful cuppa. My husband and I have very different ideas of winding down, and my three-year-old daughter is a different story altogether – bless her.

But what happens when your alarm doesn’t work? What if you can’t have your cup of coffee? What if your supermarket closes? What if your teabags get ruined in transit? I can feel the anxiety building just thinking about it.

Why is routine so important to us?

Routine serves a crucial role in our lives, they provide comfort, and stability and can also allow us to function on autopilot. Routines help us to avoid making infinite decisions during the day, freeing up our mental energy for more challenging activities.

Furthermore, routines can contribute to managing time and productivity so we can allocate time for different activities. Another plus point is the sense of achievement and accomplishment that we can have from completing a more taxing task.

Reluctance to change

While there are some people who are resistant to change (and I’ve been one of them), others are more open to it. Being open to change doesn’t mean that you are not experiencing some levels of fear or apprehension, but certain factors like personal traits, a positive mindset, and a desire for personal growth and improvement make it more manageable and less intimidating.

In all honesty, I’ve never been particularly enthusiastic or open to change, especially when it’s not a choice I’ve made myself. I’ve experienced some significant changes in my life. Moving to another country. Moving in with my partner and the biggest change of all, becoming a mother. But these were the choices that I made for myself. I struggle when change is imposed by external influences… Being made redundant. A change in company policy. A change in team dynamics. These types of changes can make me feel like I am losing control over my life and my decisions. I need to understand the purpose and benefits of the change to embrace it.

Understanding the emotions of change

Change doesn’t happen magically and requires a lot of work on yourself. When managing a team, the work doubles as you have to drive your them through change safely. Your role in navigating change is crucial in ensuring a smooth transition and helping your team embrace and adapt to the new circumstances.

To help manage and understand my adversity to change, my manager introduced me to the Kübler-Ross Change Curve.

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross originally outlined five stages of grieving (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) in her book “Death and Dying.” However, she later realised that these stages can also be applied to various life changes, personal or professional. Reflecting on which stage of change acceptance I’m in when smacked with external change, has given me valuable insight into my journey through change.

The basic idea of this theory is that whether the change is good or not, we need to say goodbye to our old habits and routines, our comfort zones, and we need to make space for the new.

Kübler-Ross talks about how you need to understand how the people in your team process emotions during the loss of their habits, routines, or well-known practices and how this can enable you to prepare your response in advance.

Let’s take a look into all 5 stages:

  1. Denial: ‘We have always done it this way and we never had a problem’  

This is the time to come to terms with this change. Understand the purpose and the fact that being stagnant can have consequences. This information should be broken down into pieces so you don’t overwhelm your team

  1. Anger: ‘I would not do that, it’s ridiculous’

Here the fear and the irritation at the prospect of abandoning their routine becomes tangible. You should continue to communicate openly and not let the anger reach extreme levels.

  1. Bargaining: ‘Do I have to do that? Can’t I still do it my own way?’

People will try to negotiate to be less affected by the changes. At this point, productivity could start to suffer and all the staff affected by the change should receive training.

  1. Depression: ‘This is not possible, I don’t want to do it, why are we doing it?’

At this stage productivity and morale could be at an all-time low. To help them get through this stage, your excitement and support are essential.

  1. Acceptance: ‘Well, actually this works’

Finally, at this stage, the change has been accepted, now your job is to maintain it and enforce it.

Understanding how to handle and navigate change is a very important part of our lives. It’s not about fighting or refusing to accept change, but rather about embracing it and realising that sometimes the quickest way forward is to go with the flow. Having supportive people who can help you overcome the fear of change is something that can assist you. In my workplace, everyone always prepares me for change. I’m now resisting change less and embracing it more, so much so that I often find myself surprised by how well I adapt to and accept the news of change.

The Kubler-Ross theory is just one of the theories that we take into consideration and reflect on in our Managing and Influencing Change, if you want to know more you can visit our website or send us an email to info@teallearningsolutions.com so we can help you and your company to drive change.