What You Need to Know About Yourself to Help You With Workplace Change

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I’ve been told (more than once) that I’m not the best role model concerning change. To be candid, I thoroughly agree with the characterization.

I balk at the mere whiff of a change — holding on to hope that it won’t ever come to pass. (Then adjusting my course will not be necessary.) Honestly, it’s a problem.

As you may have read in this post, I’ve struggled with even the smallest of changes. — muddling along until the “new normal”finally appears. Until that moment, I feel annoyed and out of sync. For better or worse, my “go to” reaction is to keep things frozen — until I can carefully consider every aspect of the situation.

Unfortunately, holding time at bay usually isn’t an option.

Regardless, I firmly acknowledge the value of flexing our workplace “change muscles”. But knowing ourselves is likely the very first place to look when building this skill set. I believe that we all have a leading predisposition when faced with change at work — and this represents both our collected experiences and temperament. Of course, this influences our leading strategy when reacting to change as well. That’s where things get tricky. (If you manage others, just reflect on what this means for your team.) We need to come to an understanding of our own tendency and recognize how this affects our response.

The realization that we tend toward one or the another, is a crucial step. I’m sure we moderate slightly with the nature of the change — but we all lean one way or another.

Here are the predispositions I’ve observed over the years:

  • Piners or Grievers. These individuals lament the coming of change, even when it is inevitable or necessary. They may grieve for the roles, policies, procedures and co-workers of days gone by. They do move on eventually — but often with decreased fulfillment, satisfaction and a measure of sadness.
  • Researchers. An unbridled penchant to gather information is the leading response for this group — as looking at the issue from all angles often helps them move on. Unfortunately, a leading by-product of this view is “analysis paralysis”. Another issue: time may not be a negotiable. (This would be where I fall, although I pine at the very start.)
  • Supporters or Embracers. These individuals are generally open to change and feel excited to contemplate the future. They may not be the primary driver of change, yet are happy to see the possibilities and help things move forward.
  • Alarmists. For these individuals an impending change triggers intense feelings of urgency. This could lead to premature or risky career behaviors that negatively affect them longer-term. (Such as quitting on a whim, etc.)
  • Dreamers. This group always manages to see the best in the current situation, even when there is overwhelming evidence to move on and accept some kind of change. (I would add there is a mild level of complacency operating here). Because of this perspective, they might miss opportunities to properly plan a place for themselves in the new “order” of things.
  • Observers. Usually quiet and calm, these individuals take a solid “wait and see” approach. They rarely panic — and prefer to watch things unfold organically. They might superficially support the change, but may eventually exit if the change is perceived as negative.
  • Aggressors or Terminators. These individuals feel anger when they are faced with an unexpected change. They may become a strong “naysayer”, vehemently opposing a change and could exhibit negative behaviors without reflection.

After I drafted these, I searched for other frameworks that capture how we process change. I happened upon the Kubler-Ross Change Curve, which applies the seminal model of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross concerning grief, to change efforts within organizations. (This theory states that we all move through specified phases when dealing with change, rather than identifying a leading emotion that we deal with over time.) I thought it wise to mention it here.

Where do you fall? Have I missed your leading orientation toward change? Share your style in comments.

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial & Organizational Psychologist. She is a Consulting Psychologist at Allied Talent. A charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program, her posts on workplace topics have appeared at The Huffington Post, US News & World Report and The World Economic Forum

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11 thoughts on “What You Need to Know About Yourself to Help You With Workplace Change

  1. Marla, I love this reflective perspective. I agree that one should see where they fall regarding change. This can help us all manage through the change process. I would argue that there is another positive pre-disposition to change. I would characterize it as a survivalist that applies an agile or flexible mindset to their life. These individuals have experienced real personal trauma and are anticipating the next situation and prepositioning themselves to best weather the issue. In many cases, this will lead to a positive adoption, advocacy or even agent approach to change.

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  5. Very nice and pertinent article, Marla. And thank you for the connection to a good discussion of Kubler-Ross. The tendencies of leading emotions seem to me to track with the two major reactions to a crisis (a challenge, change, or real crisis): the first and most typical I’ve experienced is the Fix The Blame response, and the other is What Can We Make of this Opportunity? The latter look like your Dreamers (Embracers) and act as if they were in a Positive Sum game. The Observers seem to fit into a Zero Sum game, awaiting movement elsewhere. The other three seem to be in a Negative Sum game each with increasing intensity; Piners, then Alarmists, then Aggressors or Terminators.

    As a side observation, I have been dealing with some instances, few thankfully, where the best behavior description is probably a distorted Kubler-Ross: they are in a continuous loop of Behavior – Consequences – Anger – Denial, and never seem to move to the frustration/depression stage and on to resolution.

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  6. My position within organizations has operational analysis, implementation, and management. Change didn’t impact or scare me, I saw it as an adjustment to new direction or an educational process to get the new leader up to speed with where we were. My mindset has been to look at options, not necessarily based on emotions but simply the new reality as I see it.

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  7. Great article Dr. Marla Gottschalk! In my role I am the Change Agent. I have experienced each of these behaviors first hand. I will say that there are supporters of change present as well, those who aren’t the drivers for change but advocate for it. These are the people who see the big picture and once they understand the goal, they’ll help get others on board. These people are crucial to promote a culture of change…getting others “in the mix” in a productive way!

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  8. Great list – I would add “Embracers”, which could be a variation of your Dreamers, though my takeaway is Dreamers look backward rather than forward. Some really embrace change and get excited about doing things differently. The downside is changing just for the sake of change

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