People react to change with some version of one of four reactions: anger, sadness, confusion and withdrawal. In today’s Lightning Byte we’re going to take a closer look at the change reaction of sadness and worry.
“If men are honest, everything they do and everywhere they go is for a chance to see women. There were points in my life where I felt oddly irresistible to women. I’m not in that state now and that makes me sad.”
- Jack Nicholson
When change does the cha-cha on your world, what you’ve always known to be true can get turned upside down and sideways. You go from being a sexy hunk with a six pack to a wrinkled rebel with a flabby belly. That’s when a lot of Type A top performers go into anger overdrive and wage war against the change demon. However, what many of these warriors will confess if they are really honest is that the anger is just a smokescreen to hide sadness.
Let’s take a closer look at why sadness is a normal and common response to change.
By definition change begins with an ending. One world must end for another world to begin. You go from being single to being married. You go from being childless to being a parent. You go from being a manager to being an executive. You go from being young and cool to old and gray. You go from knowing what to expect to not being sure what the new world will bring.
Anytime something ends, it’s natural and common to experience a sense of loss and the accompanying feelings of grief and sadness. Grief and sadness can even pop up when change is positive and welcome. For instance, you are overjoyed with the birth of your baby and you mourn the loss of sleep the change brings. You’re thrilled with your corner office yet you miss the comfortable comradery of your old cubicle colleagues. In these bittersweet situations, the sweet part of change helps us process, accept and move through the accompanying sadness in a healthy way.
However, when the change is more bitter than sweet, like the loss of your job or the death of your spouse, the grief and sadness can wrap its arms around you like a strait jacket. When this happens, you become locked on the past even though it no longer exists. You turn to the past for comfort, a sense of belonging and positive feedback about who you used to be.
“I used to be important, but now, in the new organizational chart, I’m just another mid-level manager.”
“I remember when you could treat patients without the insurance company telling you what to do. Things were so much simpler then. I miss those days.”
“I used to be a chick magnet.”
When you get stuck in sadness, it’s not healthy or productive. Persistent sadness prevents you from processing and accepting change. And that’s not good. You become the aging actress who destroys her natural beauty with Botox or the widower who withdraws from his family and friends or the gifted professional who stalls out because she’s stuck in an old mindset that no longer works.
Key points for leaders to remember about sadness and Type A top performers:
- Many smart and talented Type A’s are reluctant to admit that change triggers sadness within them because sadness is so often associated with weakness and looking bad. Consequently, they will cover up their sadness by acting angry and attacking the change and the people associated with the change. When you react to the anger, it distracts you – and them – from dealing with what the real problem is – sadness and grief over a sense of loss.
- When leading change, acknowledge that feelings of loss, grief and sadness are a normal part of change. Make it OK for people to talk about it so they can process and move through the feelings in a healthy way. When you drive change without taking and making the time to acknowledge and talk about normal feelings of sadness or worry, you are asking for trouble.
How to know if you or someone else is stuck in sadness:
- You find yourself saying or thinking “I used to…”. Be especially mindful of pairing “I used to” statements with inaccuracies, exaggerations or fears. “I used to be successful, but now I’m a failure.” “Our opinions used to be respected by management, but now they don’t give a damn about what we think.” “I used to be attractive, but now I’m old and fat.”
- You find yourself frequently thinking, talking and reminiscing about the past because it gives you a sense of belonging or is comforting. “I remember when…”
- You feel stranded, frustrated, hurt and betrayed by the change. “I’ve been so loyal to the company and made so many sacrifices. How could they do this to me? No one understands how hard this is on me.”
- Irrational thoughts seem plausible. “If I had only gone to the gym more, my wife wouldn’t have left me.”
Typical behaviors you see when someone is stuck in sadness:
- They dwell on the past and spend time frequently reminiscing about the past or way things used to be.
- They sulk, look dejected or appear depressed.
- They resist new procedures, tasks or supervisors. In spite of knowing the new expectations, procedures and responsibilities, they continue to do things the old way.
- Their energy goes into the past. They focus on a job or a location or a time that was stable and try to live life as if that state of affairs had never changed.
What to do if you are stuck in sadness:
- Acknowledge that you are sad. Don’t hide it behind the smokescreen of anger.
- Avoid blaming others and events for your sadness. Take responsibility for your feelings.
- Get to the root of what is creating your sadness. What are you afraid will happen or not happen in the new situation? What do you feel you are losing in the new situation that you won’t be able to regain? What aspects of your identity, sense of control or expectations are being jumbled by the change?
- Be aware of the tendency towards irrational thinking. Put your thoughts through a reality check. What’s the truth? If you had gone to gym more, would you have been able to prevent your wife from leaving you?
- What is it about the past that you found so comforting? What did you value about the past? What can you do in the new situation to create a sense of comfort and value?
- Take action to build a bridge between the past and the current reality.
- If you can’t move past the sadness, seek help from your physician, your minister or a trusted friend.
What to do if one of your direct reports is stuck in sadness:
- Realize that anger is often a smokescreen for Type A sadness. Don’t react to the anger by waging war with the person.
- Acknowledge the person’s feelings. “Ralph, you seem upset.”
- Then, instead of falling into the Type A traps of getting defensive, bulldozing over them or telling them to man up, ask an open ended question to explore and understand the root cause of their sadness. “What is it about the change that you find upsetting or unsettling?” “What do you feel you are losing in the new system?” “What did you like or value most about the old way?”
- Help build a bridge from the old way to the new way. “How can I help you get the same value from the new system?” “What can you do differently that will help you achieve the same comfort in the new system?”
Want help leading change? Give me a call.
Want to read the entire interview with Jack Nicholson? Check it out here: The Melancholy Confessions of Jack Nicholson, Mail Online