One moment the sun was shining brightly, the next moment the sky was almost black and a sheet of rain poured down. We were on a two-hour drive back from a family event, sharing the highway with numerous semi-trucks and cars. It was bumper-to-bumper for miles.
All of a sudden, taillights disappeared in the downpour and we didn't know what was in front of us. I turned up the windshield wiper speed and slowed the car way down. Still, there was no sign of the other cars that I knew were on the road. I began to panic, doubting my ability to get us safely through this storm. What if I couldn't see the car in front of me in time and ran into it? What if someone couldn't see our car and ran into us? I knew my reaction would have a direct impact on the outcome.
Panic on the Highway…of Change
Has this ever happened to you? Change, on the road, at home or in the workplace, can bring up storms of uncertainty, panic and fear. At work, employees begin to doubt their ability, or they doubt that a certain change will actually work. They dig in their heels and stop in fear, or seem to take their sweet time moving through the change because they are unable to see what's on the horizon.
That stormy day, I reminded myself of a key principle I share with leaders: our thoughts create our feelings, which result in our actions. I recognized that the panicky feeling was because of the thought that I wouldn't be able to handle what I couldn't see. As a result, I was franticly peering through the windshield for cars, and not looking for other options. Fear began to escalate. I was gripping the steering wheel so hard, it would have been difficult to make adjustments if I had encountered any cars.
As leaders, it's important for us to realize that when we ask our employees to take on change, there are going to be moments of panic, doubt, and fear - maybe a lot of them. How do we support our staff members when that happens?
Helping Employees Harness Unhelpful Thoughts
1. Be available. Let your employees know when you and other appropriate leaders are available to talk about what they are experiencing. Just knowing you are willing to discuss their thoughts, feelings, and ideas is all the reassurance some will need. Be sure that the designated leader is someone who can help remove barriers and provide meaningful, authentic encouragement.
2. Listen. Again, our thoughts create our feelings, which result in our actions. When people have the opportunity to share their thoughts and feelings out loud, it allows their brains room to think new thoughts, which results in new feelings and actions. Ask questions about options the employee sees for moving forward. Leaders don't have to have all of the “right” answers, just the right questions to help their employees figure out answers for themselves.
3. Provide an atmosphere of safety. Any time we are asked to make changes, we move out of our comfort zone into incompetence and vulnerability. As adults, this is very difficult. We need to know that it's okay to make mistakes, that our supervisor or leader will "have our backs", support us, and help us clean up "messes", even if we goof up pretty bad. After all, mistakes are learning opportunities.
4. Reframe. Employees may need help seeing the changes in a new light. This is an opportunity for leaders to work with individuals to help them think through the change and view it in new, more positive ways. Instead of, "I'll never learn this new system," a positive, helpful reframe might be, "I am learning this part first." I often encourage leaders to develop a positive "mantra" - anywhere from one or two words to a short sentence - that will be encouraging. They can post these "mantras" on their computers, mirrors at home, doors, car steering wheels, anywhere that they will see it several times a day. As we mentioned in last week’s blog on the importance of communication in change, the more you see something, the more imprinted it becomes in the brain. "Fake it 'til you make it!"
5. Pull into the rest stop. Sometimes employees get overwhelmed with change. If possible, allow them to pull into the rest stop and refocus their energy on the end goal. At this point, celebrate their success so far on the road to change. They will be ready to get back on the road after a little breather and some encouragement. Sometimes, people just need to hear they’re going in the right direction.
Harnessing the unhelpful, negative thoughts and reframing them to more positive, supportive thoughts alters the way people feel about change. With these positive thoughts, come positive feelings, and actions that support the change in positive ways.
How do you help your employees harness and reframe their thoughts about change?
If you or your organization need helping harnessing negative thoughts or need help navigating change, contact Joy at Joy@MaximizeYourLeadership.com.
Next week we will cover the A in chAnge – Assess Options. Last week’s blog, Overcoming the Brick Wall of Change, discussed the importance of communication in Change.