9/1/2002 | 6 MINUTE READ

Coping With Change

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It's hard to adjust to change, for we are the willing victims of inertia. We feel comfortable with the status quo because we're used to it. If something new (technologies, government regulations, reorganizations, etc.) comes along that threatens to rock the boat, we view it with suspicion and, sometimes, hostility


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It's hard to adjust to change, for we are the willing victims of inertia. We feel comfortable with the status quo because we're used to it. If something new (technologies, government regulations, reorganizations, etc.) comes along that threatens to rock the boat, we view it with suspicion and, sometimes, hostility.

Yet change is a condition of life, the only thing that has brought progress. And the truth of the matter is, the rate of change itself is accelerating. Those who fail, or refuse, to adjust to it are condemning themselves to professional obsolescence.

How can you adapt to change? The following should help:

Try to understand it. Compare your own reaction to thunder to that of a small child. You ignore it. But a child displays signs of anxiety and seeks assurances from the nearest adult. From long experience, you know that thunder is a natural phenomenon that cannot harm you. The child knows no such thing. It's only human to fear the unknown.

With understanding comes confidence. That's why the first step toward coping with change is understanding it—the whys, hows and whats of it.

Department being reorganized? Worried about the impact on you? That's natural. But don't fall victim to rumors, speculation or the inclination to assume the worst. Wait for your boss to explain why it's being done, how the new department will work, what specific changes will result. Chances are the changes represent an improvement of some sort. If he or she doesn't explain these things to you—and that's extremely unlikely—ask.

Assess your situation. Okay. You understand what's happening and why. Now what does it mean to you? More work? Additional responsibility? Reporting to a new boss? What? Once you know its probable effects on you, you are in a position to take appropriate action.

Identify the opportunity. What may initially appear to be simply more work for you may really be a golden opportunity to show what you can do. A new boss may be more receptive to your ideas than the old one. Additional responsibilities can "stretch" you, provide the experience you need to qualify for bigger things. In a nutshell: don't assume a change is necessarily bad. Think about it and dig out the opportunity behind it. Then—

Accept the challenge. Once you recognize the possibilities created by the change, you're ready to take advantage of them. In today's high tech world, that usually means increasing your knowledge in some way. Learning is an exciting experience and should be approached in a spirit of adventure and anticipation.

Prepare yourself. All development is self-development and it is up to you to add to your personal know-how. Most companies schedule meetings, seminars and classes to help their people keep abreast of the latest developments. Courses may range from personal effectiveness programs to advanced training in highly technical skills. If these are offered on a voluntary basis, take advantage of them.

If your industry or profession has an association, join it, attend meetings, swap ideas with others doing the same kind of work. If there are any outside classes you can take, look into them. Get your hands on books that will keep you abreast of developments in your field of specialization. Subscribe to periodicals that regularly report on innovations and new methods that can help you in your work.

Face the change with confidence. "Knowledge is power" is true so far as it goes. But knowledge is a lot more—it's also ability, confidence, and promotability. Understand the change, assess its impact on you, identify opportunities, accept the challenge, and prepare yourself for it and you will find change not something to fear, but something to welcome and turn to your own advantage.


Handling Pressure

It's a part of life, but no one relishes it. It's pressure, the feeling that something is snapping at your heels and won't go away, no matter what you do. How to handle it?

Regardless of the nature of the pressure confronting you, a big part of its threat is the vague feeling you have of being overwhelmed. And the very fact that the feeling is somewhat vague makes it even scarier.

But if you define the pressure, you will take a giant step toward reducing it.

One effective way to do this is to draw up a list of what you must do, when you must finish it, and the amount of time you can afford to spend on each item.

Getting this information down on paper can be helpful, because when you have a schedule to consult, you can keep track of how well you are doing and what remains to be done. By putting the pressure you feel into words, you take away a lot of its terror. It is no longer a "pressure," but simply another job that has to be done.


Use the "You" Approach

Psychologists estimate that we spend fully 92% of our thinking time thinking about—ourselves.

Put this fact to work for you in your business communications. Highlight other people's wants, needs, interests and desires. Nothing—but nothing—is so geared to rivet their attention on what you are telling them as this "you" approach.

DON'T SAY: "I'd like to tell you about a new production technique."

SAY: "If you're like most production people, you'll be interested in this brand new way to lower your manufacturing costs."

DON'T SAY: "The enclosed catalog contains our whole story."

SAY: "You'll find more than 100 new products described in the enclosed catalog."

DON'T SAY: "It is hoped that the foregoing answers the questions raised."

SAY: "Should you have any further questions, please don't hesitate to ask."

Usually, it's a simple matter of translating the I, me, or our approach into you terms. Obviously, it's impossible to eliminate entirely the words I or me from a business letter of conversation. Nor is it desirable. It's merely a matter of emphasis. As a rule of thumb, think in terms of the other person's self-interest and the "you" approach will take care of itself.


The Positive Power of Reward

In a now classic experiment conducted by Psychology Department of Columbia University, a group of volunteers had one-pound weights suspended from their index fingers. They were instructed to crook the finger—thus lifting the weight—for as long as they possibly could. Only when they were certain that they could no longer budge the weight were they to signal the psychologist in charge.

Some of the volunteers were able to life the weight 100 times or more. But sooner or later, each one reached his own individual point of total exhaustion. His finger felt paralyzed; the weight seemed to weigh a ton.

None of the subjects could see any of the others and as each succumbed in turn, the psychologist hurried over to him and whispered something in his ear.

In every single case, without exception, the volunteer was able to lift the weight many more times after listening to what the psychologist had to say. Some were able to lift it more than 20 times past the point they were initially convinced represented complete exhaustion. Several subjects bettered their original performance by almost 30%.

The magic phrase the psychologist whispered was this: "From this point on, I will give you a dollar for every time you succeed in lifting the weight."

A dollar bill for just crooking the index finger! It worked like magic. Suddenly, fingers came to life. The weights moved swiftly, firmly. Why? Because nothing is geared to extract that last ounce of effort from a human being better than a reward.

What does this mean to you? Just this: if, as you check on your progress through a big job, you reward yourself as each sub-goal is attained, you will lay the psychological groundwork for additional achievement. It is precisely when we think that our last effort has taken everything out of us—imagination, perseverance, energy—that we desperately need a shot in the arm.

Rewards—as well as the prospect of them—provide just this. They excite us. They provide tangible proof that we're getting somewhere. And they help make a game out of what is essentially a deadly serious business.

An integral part of attacking any big job, therefore, is to set, in advance, "reward points," those places along the road to completion of the task where you will consciously pause and treat yourself to something because you've earned it.