Dealing With Change in the Workplace - How Leaders Can Help People Work Through Their Emotions

If you have a job or run a business you'll need to be good at dealing with change. Of that there is nothing more certain!

Regardless of whether you are having a change program foisted upon you or you are heading up the change management process, you are going to have to cope with navigating your way through the chaos and come out the other side with a positive outcome.

There are many common reactions to change in the workplace. Let's look at several of them and how you and your leader can best handle each of them:


Shocked man

If you are bumping along and feeling all is well in the world and bham out of seeming left-field change is introduced ... well you may go into shock ... it may take a while for the concept of you needing to adjust to set in.

You might experience several negative emotions such as distress, disgust, surprise, grief. Like a deer caught in headlights you may become paralyzed. Your performance may decline as you will possibly need time to make sense of and come to grips with your loss and sense of unease.

Your Leader can support you by:

  • Listening and understanding your sense of loss.
  • Feeding you information that reinforces why the change is important.
  • Giving you the time and space to come to grips with the situation.
  • In your own time and when you have the right 'head-space', encouraging you to ask questions.


confused man

After some thinking time you are likely to have some confusion and many questions. Be prepared that your mind may be a little chaotic jumping from one 'what if' question to another. About now you are possibly being hit by many rumors and speculation about the change and you'll be unsure exactly where the truth lays.

Your Leader can support you by:

  • Providing you with as much information as possible.
  • Keeping you focused with short-term objectives and goals, whilst at the same time helping you to see the bigger picture.
  • Providing reassurance by taking as much time as is necessary to address issues and concerns (both with individuals and the bigger group) about the change in the workplace conditions.
  • Help you to develop strategies for dealing with each of the stages of the change process.
  • Stay close to the ground so s/he can quickly address any rumors that speed around


Denial man

Somewhere between shock, confusion and anxiety often lays the buffer zone of denial. Not wanting to deal with all the change and resultant emotions that are coming up you may find yourself denying that the change will be of any consequence to you. You will look to other people and data to seek out evidence that the change is unnecessary and shouldn't have to occur.

Your Leader can support you by:

  • Not expecting large leaps into acceptance.
  • Allowing you sufficient time to face up to the change and its repercussions on you.
  • Helping you to see that remaining in denial is risky - e.g. imagine if you were still using a manual typewriter and all your colleagues are using computers!

Anxiety & Fear:

anxious man

About now you've come to grips with the notion that the change is inevitable - yet the shape of the future may still be dark and murky for you. Questions like: "How do I fit into this? Am I capable? Will it work for me?" will all be running around in your mind. You may be unsure who, if anyone, to trust.

Your Leader can support you by:

  • Communicating directly, honestly and calmly with you - not to whitewashing anything.
  • Helping you to fully comprehend the meaning of the change for you and how much input you will have in the change process.
  • Working with you to develop a brightness of future that you can look forward to.
  • Not making any rash promises that can't be kept.
  • Talking with you frequently to help you lessen the severity of the 'negative nellies' who may be pulling you down.
  • Being like a beacon that helps to guide and navigate your way safely through the change in the workplace and glide into the future.

Go to Part 2 of this article and get the next four emotions that you'll need to deal with as you navigate your way through organizational change.

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