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Change is a Many Splintered Thing (Part 1 of 2)
By Patti Hathaway   Printer Friendly Version

In 1996, $655 billion was spent on mergers and acquisitions. The year 1998 brought $1.6 trillion in mergers and the trend continues upward. This is far beyond what experts had predicted earlier. As mergers in the United States keep increasing every year, more and more people are affected by significant levels of change. Add to the merger boom, increasing competition, organizational reorganizations, and changes in governmental programs, and you will find a rare person NOT affected by change.

How do most people react to change? I think Alexander Graham Bell's quote applies "When one door closes, another opens: but we often look so long and regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us." Most people instinctively resist change. The Resistance Cycle depicts what I typically see happening in organizations today.

In Phase 1: Ignore the Pain - people do just that - they ignore the fact that a change is even occurring. Their focus in on what others are doing to them. They make comments such as "why are they doing this to me?" or "it will never happen". They tend to avoid any information that pertains to the change(s).

When people begin Feeling the Pain, they recognize that this change is going to be worse than they initially thought. They experience a sense of loss over what used to be and they mourn the "good old days" of yesterday. People ask, "have we been doing it wrong all these years?" They feel like they have no choice or control over decisions which affect them directly.

This is the most difficult phase to be in because of the painful reactions. I typically find five types of reactions in this phase:

1. Keep to Yourself and Lick Your Wounds - You stay to yourself and deal with the pain alone. You don't allow others to know about the pain you feel. Your internalized stress skyrockets and it begins to affect your attitude and productivity negatively.

2. Whine and Manipulate - You are angry about the changes and whine behind the boss's back to other people. You try to manipulate the system for your own agenda regardless of the impact on others. Morale in the organization becomes affected negatively.

3. Hiss and Pick Fights - You become aggressive and say things in anger. You no longer care about others' feelings and your main goal is to make other people feel as miserable as you do.

4. Mark Your Territory - You decide you can't influence the entire team so you'll just stick to your territory. You cover and protect any mistakes or problems in your department or area or responsibility.

5. Withhold Warmth -You don't share information with the rest of the team that could be beneficial. Since your boss appears to not recognize your contributions to the team, you are not going to share information with them. Information is power.

Following are some actual examples of reactions of people in the first two phases of resistance based on past program participants. The most common reaction is to withhold information; people may leave the organization; lots of whining and manipulation (one organization I know gives out "No BMW's" t-shirts - BMW stands for "bitching, moaning, whining"). Some employees concentrate on their product in order to avoid the process of change. Other employees pick fights with their peers over territory issues. Many employees are fearful because they don't get much information from their leaders and the leaders firmly act as if they have the new "right way" to proceed and therefore need no input from their staff.

In the next issue, we'll delve into the Healing the Pain and New Growth phases and provide some specific strategies that will help you begin to understand and accept change.

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