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Tuesday, 15 April 2014 00:00

It's the loss, not the change, that's causing the negative reaction

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Managing employees' sense of loss around a change

change management loss

When people react negatively to change, it's not necessarily the change itself that is causing the problem, but the sense of 'loss' that accompanies it.  Moving to a brand-new house with 4 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms may sound great, but it doesn't mean you aren't going to miss you 'first house' with its 2 small bedrooms and awkward kitchen - after all, you've had many happy memories there.

A similar sense of loss can happen within organizations which are undergoing change.  Even when the change will result in a net benefit for employees (a better work environment, a more stable sales funnel, etc.), a sense of loss can interfere with positive feelings about the results.  A sense of loss can become disruptive to individuals, and the business, if it's not handled adequately.  Understanding, acknowledging and addressing losses is essential to building a foundation for a smooth and productive transition.

 

Identify losses

It's important to identify who could experience loss during a change.  A good way to consider loss is to try to answer the question:  Who has to let go of something during, or as a result of, this change?  Will they have to let go of an established relationship with their manager, a process at which they've become expert, or even a coveted office space?  While some may experience these changes as opportunities, others may perceive them as 'losses'.

One way to help individuals identify their own losses is to have them answer the following questions for themselves:

  1. What is changing for me?  What will be different about the way that I work, the people I work with, and the people I work for?
  2. Based on the change, what will I have to let go?

Not every person will consider that every item on their list a loss, but the act of asking the questions will give individuals a chance to put words to the emotions they may be feeling.

 

Acknowledge losses

Once losses are identified, it's important to acknowledge them.  Some feel that addressing this kind of 'emotion' is inappropriate for a business setting; the truth is that pretending people aren't experiencing loss drives emotions underground where they can fester and cause greater problems later.

Reacting openly and empathetically to another's sense of loss gives them the freedom to move forward without getting stuck in resistance.  Start by expressing empathy, indicating understanding, and then move to a reframing of the situation without arguing or denying the loss:  "I hear that you're feeling distressed by losing a good relationship wtih your current manager, and I understand how you feel and that you're concerned it might impact your chances for promotion.  Let me show you how the criteria for your promotion and career advancement won't actually be negatively impacted by this change..."

 

Overreaction

Many times we think people are overreacting simply because they're reacting more strongly to something than we are.  And of course we're often uncomfortable with open displays of emotion, especially in the workplace.  So we label any open reaction as an 'overreaction'.  It's important to understand this before we label others.

Sometimes people 'overreact' to a situation because it reminds them of a change that happened to them in the past that wasn't handled well, or because it symbolizes something more to them than what has been announced ("They're moving my department to the other side of the office - this means they're phasing us out and I'll be unemployed within a year!  How will I feed my children?").  Understanding the true cause of the reaction will help you decide how best to help this person through the change.

 

A 'Good Goodbye'

One way to help people deal positively with their sense of loss is to encourage them to say goodbye.  This is particularly important when people are part of the loss:  The chance to say goodbye provides closure and a clear delineation to move to the next phase.

 

Looking ahead

Once people are productively dealing with their losses, they'll be ready to move forward through the change.  Encourage people to focus on what skills they possess which will lead them to continued success, and remind them of what they are not losing.  Having them imagine and discuss potential professional gains that may come about because of the change may be a good way to transition from 'loss' to 'opportunity'.

 

 

Read 8071 times Last modified on Thursday, 17 April 2014 02:47

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Beth Banks Cohn, PhD, founder and president of ADRA Change Architects, is dedicated to helping you and your organization reach your full business potential…
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