Changes are a constant in our everyday lives, and they’re one of the top five causes of stress. If you learn how to handle them without frustration, your life will be easier and happier. Do you react according to the emotional change curve?
In this article we are going to talk about the emotional curve. The emotional curve describes our reactions to changes in our life. We all experience part or all of the emotional curve.
When you’re experiencing changes, in which phase of emotional curve do you linger and why?
Different types of people handle changes differently. What type are you?
Let’s take an example from work. You hear some rumours that there’s going to be a big change in your company, say a major restructure, which could have impacts on your job role.
You have an idea that something is going on. Water-cooler chats are full of rumours and wild speculation. You start to get nervous, you are not sure what this will mean for you. What part are you going to play in the change?
Your boss informs you about what’s coming. If your boss is a good communicator, they’ll know how to frame the changes in a good light and ameliorate any major concerns you’d have. But this won’t always be the case. Be sure to not oppose things just because they were badly communicated to you.
The main reason to be in denial is that you are afraid, and you don’t know what this exactly means for you. You argue, ‘why fix what’s not broken?’, you can’t see any benefits to yourself.
You go into denial. You can have the following thoughts for example:
‘It won’t happen.’
‘They can’t make it work.’
‘There’s not the willpower to see it though.’
At this moment you still don’t agree with the change and don’t see any benefit. You’re not happy about it. Why? You’ve got used doing things the way you like to, things have become second nature, and you’re very comfortable. Maybe even bored?
This feeling of being forced outside your comfort zone against your will makes you angry. The uncertainty of what’s coming next will increase you anxiety which’ll often translate into anger.
Fueled by your anger, you’ll start arguing with the higher-ups to keep things the way they were. You’re still in denial that the change is coming, but you’re now trying to negotiate your way out of it.
Your biggest hope here is that you can persuade management that the change is not necessary, at least in your area. However if you’re honest yourself, you’re only really negotiating for your own interests, not the good of your colleagues or your company.
Are your negotiating tactics truly based on facts? Or are you arguing to win?
You didn’t win. The changes are going to happen, and you can’t deny it anymore. Your anger and anxiety leads to depression.
At this stage you may stop enjoying going to the office, you make the decision in the morning that you won’t enjoy your day. As a consequence you may start being less cooperative or work only begrudgingly. Maybe your work doesn’t suffer, but you’re no longer enjoying yourself.
Could this be impacting other spheres of your life?
Good news! You’re at the bottom of the curve, it can’t get any worse.
Many people get stuck in stage 5. If you break out of it then congratulations!
At this point, you decide to be part of the change, you’ve accepted that it’s going to happen and it’s no good being angry or upset. The key is to manage it constructively.
You start thinking about your past experiences. How can you best lever them to take full advantage of the changes that are happening? Maybe this’ll be beneficial in the long run?
Now you’re ready to really make the change work for you. You become proactively involved and you engage with the new processes. You start to feel empowered, and you start to see the possible benefits.
This doesn’t mean that all changes are positive, or that you should unquestioningly support the decisions of management. It’s about working out how to best deal with the upheavals yourself.
Different people handle changes in different ways, all people will go through the change curve in some way. Some people can skip steps, others move through the stages very fast. Others get stuck. Dr Spencer Johnson created a rough classification of these different types of people in his book ‘Who moved my cheese?’.
What type are you?
Enthusiasts see the opportunities in changes. When it’s officially announced (imagining the example above), they’re the first to participate. They adapt quickly and enjoy the upheavals. They jump straight from denial to curiosity.
Why? They’re not afraid, they’re focusing on the potential positive outcomes, and they believe that can influence things. They’re determined not to be passive victims of circumstances.
These people analyse why the changes should happen. They weigh up the pros and cons, both at a personal level and to the wider business.
If the analyst sees more pros than cons in a change, then they’re fully on board. Great! They’ll progress through the change curve at a healthy pace, into the curiosity phase.
What about when there appears to be more cons than pros? Analysts can get stuck into the depression phase for an over long time. However all analysts tend to get through the curve eventually, they come to terms with changes and accept the need to work in the new reality.
Stick-in-the-muds don’t like change. They prefer to keep their routine and are afraid of new experiences. Consequently they often get stuck in the anger or depression phases. They often only take into consideration their own personal situation and don’t see the big picture.
Obviously this isn’t a good idea. People who are stuck in these phases, will lose any enjoyment from their job. They’ll also likely not perform as well at work.
If you think fall into this category then you have to think carefully about the possible consequences of your behaviour. You should also be very honest with yourself to see if your objections are truly justified or whether they’re self-serving.
Changes are part of life. You won’t agree with every change imposed upon you. Some of them will be good, others bad, others irrelevant.
The most important thing is find the best attitude for handling changes. Being upset or depressed every day is not a good coping strategy. It’ll impact other aspects of your life as well, such as your health and personal relationships.
How about when you strongly disagree with something:
Try to convince relevant stakeholders and find a better solution. Hold your emotion back, use the facts.
Come to terms with the change and try to get the best possible scenario for you.
If you can’t accept it, then think outside the box. One extreme is to see this as an opportunity to find a new job.
Complaints which aren’t constructive benefit no one. Stress will rule your life.
Self-awareness is key. If you’re not aware of your reactions, you can’t change them. Learn to identify in what phase of the emotional curve you’re in. Check your attitude and observe how you react to events.
Do your reactions cause issues? Is it slowing down your career progression? Does it hinder personal happiness?
If you can’t change something, you need to change how you think about it.