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Change Leads to Grieving

I’m listening to a webinar Air University is putting on called “Managing Traumatic Transitions” with Dr. Allen. She is actually talking about managing any type of transition, because all kinds of transition are traumatic to people.

She asked:

How many of us consider how individuals will grieve when we introduce change?

It’s clear that some people do better with change than other people. Any type of change. But grieving?

A man in a business suit clearly disappointed about something.  Source: https://images.theconversation.com/files/172723/original/file-20170607-11305-yeecef.jpg

Other sources agree, ‘change at work can trigger loss and grief’

I’ve been in that situation where I describe some small necessary change - like, “don’t fill out this section of the report anymore, put that info in this other section now.” And the meeting fell apart. People had all kinds of questions relevant and irrelevant, concerns that were sensible or ridiculous, and just generally seemed to be taking the changes very personally. I didn’t understand this.

Dr. Allen suggested that these attitudes and reactions are due to grieving. Any change - even those things I considered small - can disrupt people, and cause them to lose certainty. When people lose things, they grieve, and losing certainty is especially frightening.

A lego person taking the last package of toilet paper from a store shelf.  Source: https://legogradstudent.tumblr.com/post/613037524918648832/grabbing-a-pack-of-toilet-paper-the-grad-student

Losing certainty is frightening - see: the current toilet paper shortage

It strikes me as ridiculous that small changes cause grieving - but then many of the reactions I was getting struck me as ridiculous too. So I suspect that’s partly me being dismissive of others’ feelings.

I don’t like being dismissive of others’ feelings, but I’m usually stuck just trying to hide and cover-over my dismissiveness. It doesn’t always come across as genuine.

A better reaction on my part, besides incredulity, would be to plan for such reactions. A more structured way to announce change, one that gives individuals time to grieve, might be to introduce the change at a time that won’t be disruptive and won’t cause indiviuals to be disruptive. I could describe the characteristics of the change Dr. Allen highlighted as important (below) at the same time. Introducing the change at a time when individuals will then spend time by themselves for at least a couple hours might be best (perhaps, when they’re headed home). Then, giving them time to address the change with me or as a team, might help. That is - plan to spend some time during a meeting, or in private meetings, discussing the change. It might be best to let individuals know when that specific time is, too.

When introducing change, plan to give people time to grieve

Characteristics of a change that individuals want to know:

  • What is changing?
  • What will be different because of the change?
  • Who is going to lose what, as a result?

I’d include “why are we changing”, too. This is usually something that can and should be shared with folks. “Start with why”.