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How can I take control and manage change?

Written by: The Lawyer
Published on: 28 Feb 2017

Change is a pertinent topic for many readers judging by the volume of positive comments I received in response to my previous article. Based on your feedback I’m sharing some ideas on how to manage and feel in control of change.

What’s happening to me?

Even the most analytical and objective thinkers experience an emotional reaction to significant change. While the noise of disruption makes it easy to miss at the time, once the dust has settled, the most common reflection I hear from my clients is that they feel they’ve been on a roller coaster ride.

A useful model for making sense of these emotional highs and lows is the Kubler-Ross transition curve. All change involves loss at some level and this model describes five common reactions to loss.

Initial shock (“Is this really happening to me?”) can give way to anger (“It’s not fair, why is this happening to me?”) to be replaced with bargaining or trying to find a way out of the situation (“If I work harder and prove myself invaluable I’ll get my old role back”), followed by a low point when we realise bargaining won’t work.

In this stage employees often feel demotivated and uncertain about their future. As they realise they can’t avoid the change they move towards acceptance and start considering options and preparing for change.

This reaction also applies to a positive change so think back to your last job move or promotion to bring the model to life. Most likely you started on a high, enjoying a honeymoon period and a sense that reality hasn’t yet hit. When it does, it’s usual to feel overwhelmed, uncertain and full of self-doubt. Over time you gradually adapt to your new situation, some have to hit rock bottom, emotionally speaking, to be able to move to this next stage.

Use the model the next time you go through a lateral move, promotion, return from maternity leave or secondment, even a room change that results in you working with a new partner to identify the emotional stage you are at and feel reassured the feelings you have are normal. Share with colleagues asking for their support as you tackle a new situation.

If you find yourself stuck, unable to move on from the ‘anger’ or ‘uncertainty’ stage, ask for help. Understanding your feelings will enable you to take the bull by the horns and manage the change successfully.

How can I take control and manage change?

The legal landscape is constantly evolving. Mergers and restructuring have been a constant theme among law firms in the UK for many years. There will be times, when leaders of firms will make decisions that impact you, your team or department. Don’t be surprised if this leaves you feeling disempowered and frustrated. When faced with change, particularly if that change isn’t within your control it can be helpful to consider what you are focusing your time and energy on.

One of the habits of highly successful people identified by Steven Covey is proactivity. Proactive people recognise the futility of wasting time and energy worrying about things which are beyond their control and focus instead on what they can influence.

emma article
Emma Spitz

If you are going through a period of organisational instability, stop worrying about what you can’t change, or as Covey calls it “your circle of concern” and start focusing on what you can influence. Small actions, such as updating your LinkedIn profile or networking your socks off are healthier than rumination.

A word of encouragement for anybody going through a restructure: take heart from the experience of a lawyer I recently coached. Her hopes for promotion had been delayed by events beyond her control. Rather than wasting energy bemoaning the unfairness of the situation it became the impetus she needed to be proactive and take control of her career.

Her journey through the transition curve was swift and relatively painless as she focused on what she could influence rather than the problems and challenges that had been put in her way and this in turn allowed her to stand out among her peers and be regarded as a strong partner candidate.

Emma Spitz is a Director at the Executive Coaching Consultancy. She has over twelve years experience advising City law firms and coaching female lawyers on their career development.