Image Alt

The Singapore Law Gazette

Our Current Climate – Change

As I was reviewing my personal goals for the year 2020 (throwing my biggest birthday bash, travelling to New Zealand, renovating my new BTO flat), I realised that none of these goals could be achieved this year and all had to be suspended or somewhat modified. COVID-19 has affected everyone on many different levels, but has taught us all one thing: Change is unavoidable.

Usually, the hardest changes to comprehend and adapt to, are the ones that are sudden and uncontrollable – a worldwide pandemic, an economic crash, or a natural disaster, for instance. Changes at this scale can be hard to grapple with. However, our response and attitude to the change can be determinative of whether there is a positive or negative outcome.

Thus, in this article, we will investigate the manner by which individuals will in general move toward change, the responses that we may have, and how to best adapt.

Coping with Change

There are two ways most people will usually deal with change:

  1. Escape coping; and/or
  2. Control coping.

Escape coping is basically taking steps to avoid the change. For example, making excuses to miss training for a newly introduced work system, or showing up late for a discussion about a forthcoming restructuring exercise. Some may even turn to alcohol or drugs for relief.

In contrast, control coping is more positive and involves dealing with the emotions associated with the change. Proactive steps are taken to do whatever is possible to integrate with and adapt to the change.

In reality, most individuals react to significant change with a combination of escape and control coping. Yet, control coping is usually the better option, as it is difficult to continually avoid reality for long, without negative consequences.

Stages of Reacting to Change

Change can be difficult to adapt to, in light of the fact that it can challenge how we think, how we work, the nature of our social interactions, and even our sense of identity.

Generally, we react to change in four stages:

  1. Shock and disorientation
  2. Anger and other emotional responses
  3. Coming to terms with the “new normal”
  4. Acceptance and taking steps forward

However, our progression through these stages is seldom straightforward or linear. We may remain for a long while in one stage, or advance rapidly but then regress. There is frequently no obvious transition from one stage onto the next. For example, shock may morph into or be accompanied with anger, with no discernible difference between the two stages.

It may be easier to advance through these stages effectively if there is an acknowledgement of emotions, positive framing of the situation, reliance on friends and family for support, and taking the opportunity to adjust.

Stage 1: Shock and Disorientation

Encountering an abrupt, large change can feel like a stomach-wrenching blow. For instance, a global financial crisis may bring about immediate and devastating financial loss and redundancies. This may make certain work roles irrelevant and increase friction in relationships, resulting in instability and unease. On the other hand, the loss of a loved one or an unexpected medical diagnosis may cause a paradigm shift.

In the initial phase of adapting, it is understandable to feel confused and uncertain. The goal should be to look for and obtain enough reliable data and information in order to find a workable solution in response to the change.

It may even be useful to conduct an analysis to objectively examine the circumstances to identify the level of threat faced. Are there potential advantages that were ignored and could be leveraged? Are there ways to work around the obstacles caused by the change or are modifications necessary to achieve the intended objective?

It may not be possible to arrive at any firm resolutions at this stage; however, it is crucial to remain as positive as possible, persisting until a solution is found.

Stage 2: Anger and Other Emotional Responses

Initial confusion upon encountering change may then develop into several strong emotional responses. Anger could manifest in respect of a change in job role, or fear of the unknown may result following a layoff.

Whilst dealing with change, it is natural to have drastic swings between optimism and pessimism. This is part of the process of recognising and acknowledging the situation.

At this point, it is important to try not to stifle any emotional response. Rather, it is important to manage them, giving them the appropriate level of recognition, so that these feelings do not become debilitating and a hindrance to day-to-day interactions and relationships.

Stage 3: Coming to Terms with the “New Normal”

At this stage, people stop complaining about their losses. Instead they let go and accept the change. Then they begin to explore what changes there are and what they mean, so as to learn how to deal and cope with them.

One way of dealing with new changes is to develop resilience and a positive mentality towards any challenges. Staying calm during a crisis requires training, as well as continuous reinforcement of positive thoughts. A good support system would be of immense help in overcoming the situation.

Stage 4: Acceptance and Moving Forward

At stage 4, acceptance of the changed circumstances becomes second nature, as important memories, skills and relationships have been developed.

It is at this point that the individual feels ready to move on, whether in career or in life events. They adapt and rebuild ways of working, developing different skill sets in order to counteract the change in circumstances, even exploiting new opportunities which may arise.

Only when individuals get to this stage can an organisation really start to reap the rewards of change, i.e. accelerated development and innovation.

Accelerating Change and Development

The truth of the matter is that organisations don’t simply change as a result of new frameworks, processes or structures. They change in light of the fact that the individuals inside the organisation adjust and change as well.

Having knowledge of the above stages of responses to change, is useful in finding appropriate ways to deal with the same. From there, with the right level of help and support, there can be greater development and innovation for individuals, their organisations and society as a whole.

Member, Young Lawyers Committee
The Law Society of Singapore
E-mail: [email protected]