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Strategies for handling imposed changes.

IMPOSED CHANGES are rarely welcome, particularly in the laboratory. Initially we perceive and focus on only the negative aspects of the change. We ask ourselves, "What's in it for me?" The answer is frequently the loss of some aspect of our work that we like or the addition of work that we don't.

Three general strategies can help us to weather imposed changes in both our professional and personal lives. The first is developing a philosophy or faith to aid us through both negative and positive changes in our lives. The second is developing an acceptance of change as being a natural state for all living things. And the third is developing specific action steps to employ when faced with imposed changes.

* Change philosophies. Many people are aided during times of change by knowing that nothing in life is permanent. Others are helped by believing that everything that happens has a purpose, that events do not happen at random. This philosophy forces them to find a positive aspect to the change by asking themselves, "What is the purpose behind this change? What lesson am I meant to learn?"

Others view change as a challenge. They recognize when they are too comfortable or are in a rut and need something to shake them out of it, leading them to an even more productive and satisfying career. What philosophy do you have or can you develop that will help you survive and thrive during imposed changes?

Almost all philosophies for change adaptation involve acceptance of change as a natural occurrence for all living things. It is essential to change our mind-set from wishing that changes would stop to accepting that not only will they not stop, but they will probably accelerate and become even less predictable in the future. Such acceptance prevents us from wasting energy on resisting change and frees energy for adapting to change.

Several specific strategies exist for handling imposed changes: reframing, calling in consultants, behavior transplants, mind-set shifting, changes in time perspective, having flexible expectations, and trend analysis.

* Reframing. To change your view of an imposed change from negative to positive, it is usually necessary to look at the change through a different lens; that is, to reframe the change in a way that makes it appear acceptable. Take, for example, the following scenario: A laboratorian works in toxicology and likes it very much. A much younger woman who knows very little about toxicology joins the staff. The newcomer has a somewhat abrasive personality and contributes to a rise in the stress level of the toxicology section. After a few months, the experienced laboratorian is transferred--not by choice or request--to the chemistry section--clearly an imposed change.

During any imposed change, it is necessary to look at what you know you are losing, what you know you are gaining, and potential gains. The experienced laboratorian in the above scenario clearly felt a loss of competency when she was moved from an area in which she had specialized. She also lost turf or territory and like-minded colleagues.

But she gained a decrease in stress level as a result of being moved away from the new, abrasive, unqualified person. Second, she gained the opportunity to perform different tasks in chemistry and broaden her background. Third, and something she never anticipated, was the friendship that developed over time with the newcomer in toxicology. The experienced laboratorian told me that if she had been forced to work with the toxicology newcomer constantly, she would have continued to be annoyed and stressed by her lack of knowledge and would have completely missed the opportunity of developing a friendship with her.

Reframing techniques can be extremely helpful in making sure you are viewing the pros and cons of a change realistically and in helping you identify feelings of loss. If you feel a loss of competence, for example, where can you obtain additional training? How can you build a new feeling of competence? How long will it take for you to develop a sense of competence? What is a reasonable timetable? Can you replace the feeling of loss by viewing your situation differently--by looking through a different lens?

During tragedies, like the fire storms in California or the hurricanes that have hit various areas of the country recently, one can find many examples of reframing. Some people who lost all of their material possessions said things like, "It is very freeing to be thingless." Others said, "It got us in touch with our real values. It wiped away all the trivia of our lives, making us realize what is really important."

In order to use the reframing technique, you must first identify the loss you feel. Think now about a current change and what you are losing in the process. It might be competence, money, turf, structure, friends, opportunity, control, etc. The moment you identify the loss, you begin the process of accepting change by moving out of the denial stage.

Next, to handle the resistance stage of change, identify all the people with whom you are angry and the reasons why. Often you are angry at more than one person, an organization, or even God. Identifying your anger in this way will help you focus your energy. Allow yourself to feel your anger deeply. Then decide what you can do with the energy of your anger that will be constructive.

Cindy Lightner is a good example of someone who focused her anger on constructive action. Her teenage daughter was killed by a drunk driver. First she grieved her loss, and then she became angry when she was made aware of the drunk driver's similar previous accidents and terrible driving record. Her anger motivated her to found MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Drivers. The energy of anger can be very powerful when directed in a constructive manner. How can you direct your energy for a positive outcome?

* Calling in consultants. If you drew a blank on how to use your anger constructively, perhaps you need to employ the second strategy for dealing with imposed changes, which involves calling in consultants.

Who are consultants? First you may need an expert, someone who knows more than you do about your specific change, or has some expertise that you're lacking. Perhaps it's a supervisor, mentor, management expert, or psychologist. Or, maybe you are sorely in need of support or acceptance and are fearful or afraid, in which case your consultant should be someone who loves you unconditionally, such as a spouse, parent, sibling, or close friend. A third type of consultant who is useful during changes is someone who will give you a proverbial kick in the pants in a supportive way. This type of consultant is particularly useful if you're stuck in the denial or resistance stages of change.

To help you analyze the change you're facing, find out the perception of the change from various other people you respect, such as a friend or relative who is not in the same career, and, perhaps, a colleague with whom you work. Make sure at least one of your consultants is of the opposite sex, since gender differences in perception can be significant. These consultants know you in different ways and will have differing perceptions of the change and of your possible approaches to it.

Finally, get advice from someone you greatly admire but do not know personally. How? Choose any person, living or dead, as an advisor. It might be Abraham Lincoln, Helen Keller, Barbara Jordan, Michael Jordan, Gandhi, Peter Drucker, Mother Teresa, Walt Disney, etc. It might be someone like Bette Midler or Jay Leno, who are known for their showmanship and great senses of humor. Play out an imagined conversation with them. How would you explain the change to them? What questions would you ask? What assumptions of yours would they question? How would your strategies differ?

This exercise helps to increase your flexibility and breaks you out of rigid thinking patterns. Yesterday's solutions do not always fit today's changes. Consultants help you clarify and expand your view of the change.

* Behavior transplants. Another strategy for dealing with imposed changes is to do a behavior or habit transplant.

This strategy implies that you stop focusing on the way things used to be, that you let go of the past and of your previous way of doing things, and focus instead on new behaviors and ways of reacting. This strategy provides you with something positive on which to concentrate instead of leaving you feeling that something has been taken away.

Let's look at an example of a successful behavior transplant. The laboratory manager of a midsize hospital lab was having a problem with the majority of his employees coming to work late. He tried all the usual approaches without success. Then he decided to stop focusing on the wrong behavior and instead focus on the correct behavior. He rewarded the two technologists who came in on time with a letter of appreciation given to them personally, with a copy put in their personnel file and a copy posted on the bulletin board. The late staff members all noticed this positive attention. The next week three others came in on time and requested their letters at the end of the week. After a month, all except one employee started work on time.

This lab manager followed the steps of a successful behavior transplant. First, he stopped thinking about past behavior. He let go of the old way of thinking and devised a new way. He changed the focus from punishing the wrongdoer to rewarding the right behavior.

Accepting new behaviors can be made easier by making them analogous to things you enjoy. For example, people who are new in sales positions often have difficulty doing cold-call selling. If they view what they do as a needless interruption or take the attitude that no one wants to speaks to them, they will dread the task. But if the new sales person's hobby happens to be gardening, and she begins to view cold-call selling as planting seeds in the garden, selling will become much easier and, in time, even enjoyable.

A laboratorian who had worked for a lab for 20 years found himself being phased out, largely due to advances in technology. He was asked to change his job twice within 3 years and did so even though the work did not interest him.

Finally, he was asked to make a third change and accept a lower salary. This third change, he felt, was totally inappropriate for his interests and abilities. He rejected it and was furious! He couldn't understand how after giving the best years of his life to this lab, they could treat him so badly.

His wife had been trying to help him make a job change for several years and felt he wasn't hearing her. After this last change, she decided to try the analogy strategy. His major interest outside of work was computers. When asked what he should do, she said, "What you are dealing with is a blank screen. You don't know your options. It is as if you can't even get into the software." He finally heard her and was then open to going to career counseling at a local college.

* Mind-set shifting. There are many ways of changing your mind-set when dealing with imposed changes. You can choose, for example, to view change as an opportunity to do the extraordinary. When you adopt this viewpoint, your mind switches from thinking "This change is impossible" to "In order to flow with this change, these are the problems that need to be solved." This switch helps you break the change down into manageable parts and embrace possibilities.

It also helps change your mental dialogue or self-talk from negative to positive, or at least to neutral. Instead of telling yourself, "This change is awful, crazy, or impossible," and wasting precious energy wondering why the change is happening to you, you stop questioning, moaning, and blaming and instead become solution-minded. Instead of seeing just the side of change that spells crisis, you start to see the side that spells opportunity.

Another mind-set switch that is useful when dealing with an imposed change is to move mentally from frustration to fascination. There is always something fascinating about change; we just have to be willing to look for it. Also, switch from being a passive observer to an active participant. Ask questions. Gather information. Move mentally from fear to excitement, a worry to optimism.

Instead of worrying about failure in the new situation, focus on making several course corrections before reaching your destination. Remember, 90% of the time Apollo was off course in its missions to the moon, and yet it still reached its target. There is plenty of leeway in most life changes for similar course adjustments.

Many famous people say that they failed their way to success. Abraham Lincoln lost the first 9 of 11 elections. Imagine if he had stopped trying after just 3 or 4. Walt Disney went bankrupt before becoming a success. If you are typical, you fell 240 times before you learned to walk. Don't let fear of failure stop you from adapting to change. Failure is, in fact, a springboard to success. It opens doors that we might not have otherwise seen. It shows us new opportunities. It is inherent in the change process and merely signals the need for a course correction.

If you have difficulty shifting gears mentally in the midst of change, make two lists. On one list, write down all the negative aspects of the change, including your negative and angry feelings, your worries, your fears, losses, etc. On the second list, write down all the positive aspects of the change. When you are finished with both lists, shred the negative one and throw it away. This exercise helps to rid yourself of negative resistance to change. It says visually and physically that you are through with your negative views and ready to move into the positive emergence stage of change.

* Changes in time perspective. A strategy that will help you to stop devoting too much energy to a change is to ask yourself: "In terms of my whole life, how important is this change?"

If you believe, for example, that you will live to be 98, ask yourself: "Over the 98 years of my life, how important is this change? How important will it be to me in 5 years? In 20?"

One laboratory I know phased out the phlebotomist position. This meant everyone else would have to spend some time drawing blood, a task that none of them wanted. But when they put the change in a 10-year time perspective, it didn't seem worth getting so upset over. They would lose some time and some sense of competence, but in the end they decided they would gain from developing another skill and would be even more valuable to an organization that was downsizing.

When you place an imposed change in a larger time framework, you are likely to find that the change may not be all that significant. When you discover this, it is easier to let go of the past and move forward through the change.

* Flexible expectations. Our own "supposed to be" expectations often get in the way of our acceptance of imposed change and of moving successfully through the stages toward adaptation. Such expectations can cause us to become stuck in the denial or resistance stages of change.

All of us have certain ideas about the way things are supposed to be in our lives. When an imposed change violates, the way things should be, we feel like we have hit the rapids and resist the change with all of our might, even if our "supposed to be" expectations are sheer fantasy.

With regard to the downsizing of labs, laboratorians who believe that they should be retained because they have the most seniority may be in for a rude awakening. Other "supposed to be" expectations might include: I'm not supposed to have to look for a new job at 45 years of age. I'm not supposed to be let go, after being a loyal employee for all these years. I'm supposed to be secure and at the peak of my earning capacity, not starting all over.

In dealing with imposed change, get rid of your "supposed to be" expectations and deal with the reality of the situation. Doing so will help you regain your balance sooner.

* Trend analysis. Being aware of trends may be helpful in ridding yourself of "supposed to be" expectations. For example, one trend or prediction for the future is that fewer people will work full-time. Those who do will work longer hours, carry a heavier workload, and be well compensated for it. As much as two-thirds of the population will either be working part-time, freelancing, or doing a combination of both. Knowing that there will be a different pattern to our work life in the future can help to get rid of "supposed to be" expectations that limit our ability to adapt to change.

In other words, the reality of tomorrow will not be the same as the reality of today. Knowing this can help you to deal with the imposed changes of increased workloads, changes in job descriptions, and the phasing out of some positions in your lab.

* Faith. Perhaps the most difficult changes to accept and adjust to are health changes and the loss of loved ones. This is where a deep faith becomes key.

Some people look at the tragedies of their life and say that every time one door closes, another opens. Others search for the lesson to be learned from the change. Sometimes the lesson is just to learn how strong we really are. Such people frequently say, "I learned from that experience that I am truly a survivor."

Another view is that you don't really know who you are or truly develop character until you are tested in the valleys of life. Many people say that some of the changes that seemed most devastating at the time, in retrospect were the keys to improving their life in the broadest sense. Others say that specific lessons were learned from tragic illnesses, such as patience, not to take things for granted, or to find some beauty or pleasure in each day.

In summary, learn the key skill of reframing change. Call in consultants when necessary to broaden your view of change and help change your mind-set. Put events in a different time perspective before deciding how much energy to devote to them. Develop flexibility by keeping up with trends of the future. In short, learn the lessons of change, keeping in mind that when one door closes, a new door of opportunity will open.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Change, Part 3
Author:Harmon, Shirley
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Sep 1, 1993
Previous Article:Developing a more effective training program.
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