Grieving Change

Tim Schneider
Leadership Development from Aegis Learning

By Tim Schneider

My old house was really not special or unique on any level.  1100 square feet, office, master bedroom and some under-stair storage.  Nice neighbors, too many sirens and fully audible play-by-play of football on Friday nights from the next-door high school. 

But for three years it was home.  Our little landing place, safe spot and quiet zone for me and Miss Sydney.  Knew where everything was and could find things in the dark.  Comfortable and completely crafted and designed by me.  Contained and protected all my treasures. 

The contrasting change is a new home, three times the size, new roommates, bigger yard, space, space and more space.  Exciting stuff with a lifetime of new memories coming.  There is no doubt about a better future in this home.

But the one lesson I learned when my dad passed was to mourn the loss of the old situation.  Even though my old bachelor pad was not much to write home about, I need to mourn that change.  With my dad, I didn’t do that for many years.  Moved right into performance mode and even denied emotional connection.  Took care of everything and everyone and never took the time to mourn the loss.  That exploded some years later in a necessary breakdown related to the missing of my weekly conversations and annual visits. 

Even though a house change is not close to the emotional connection with a loved one, there is still emotional connection.  Emotional connection that cannot be denied.  To fully move on and be joyful and present in my new home, I needed to mourn the loss of the old place.

And so, it is with all changes and even, those changes that happen in the working environment.  We lose a team member; we need to grieve it and mourn.  There is a procedure that we have high expertise in; we need to mourn its passing and change.  The organizational structure changes; we need to take some time, reflect and mourn. 

To some of you reading this, you will find this a bit much and even be dismissive of the entire concept of mourning a procedure or cubicle location but hang with me for a moment.  The cycle of change, regardless of the depth and scope of change, requires a grieving, stressing or mourning prior to coping and moving into performance.  Change becomes a unique human adaptation because it requires both a cognitive (mental) and emotional reaction.  The cycle of change is described as:

Change Event

What becomes different. 

Stressing, Grieving, Mourning

Degree of emotional reaction associated with comfort, expertise and love connected to the prior situation or person.

Coping

Point-in-time acknowledgement that you must survive, adapt and move forward in the new situation.

Performing

The recovery of prior levels of functioning after the coping point.

(Repeat to Next Change Event)

Now let’s look at some telltale signals and signs of the need to grieve:

  1. Constant Referencing the Way it Was
  1. Memorials and Tributes to People Gone and Lost
  1. Tributes to the “Old Days”
  1. Not Recovering into Performance
  1. Staying “Stuck in the Past”
  1. Not Learning or Adapting to the New Ways or Situations

The complete object lesson of this is learning how and when to grieve a loss related to a change, no matter how big or small.  The principles of grieving are the same for a lost loved one as they are for a new technology at work.

  1. Acknowledge the Feelings and Emotions of Loss

Openly accept the hurt and emotions related to your loss.  Don’t deny them.  Don’t say your alright. 

  1. Provide Time to Grieve

Give yourself some time to reflect on the loss and reflect on what you valued about the old situation.  Resurrect some fond memories and allow yourself the feeling of fondness.  Do this as soon as possible.  Delay in this step can exasperate the feelings of hurt and reduce your ability to move forward.

  1. Accept and Acknowledge

Intellectually accept that things will not be the same and will never return to the previous situation.

  1. Focus on the Benefits of the New

Create or focus on the positive outcomes from the change event.  If you are unable to summon this, you may need to go back and spend more time grieving what you lost.

  1. Learn

Develop and learn new skills associated with the changes that you are experiencing.  Build a set of competencies that restore normalcy and return your expertise.

  1. Adapt and Overcome

The final stage is to restore your performance and functioning.  Return to your routines with the new reality and begin to really adjust to your situation.  Many people (me included) have tried to jump to this step which really stunts the recovery from change period.

A final note about grieving a loss is about time.  There is no magic formula for how long this will take you.  Some losses will take months, and even years, to recover from while some, like my old house, this cycle can be moved through in minutes.

Tim Schneider New House

Tim Schneider is the founder, CEO and lead facilitator for Aegis Learning.  

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