Responding to Change

“I have to find safety. My home is disappearing!”
“I have to find safety. My home is disappearing!”

The Western world is in an uproar over the predicted-by-some, yet surprising-to-most, election win by Donald Trump. For me, the event and its aftermath is a fantastic example of what many experience as “unwanted change”, and the behaviours that manifest at such times. This is a fantastic public theatre of what occurs on a smaller, often ignored, scale within organisations undergoing change, planned or unplanned, welcomed by or imposed on the employees. This article highlights some of the more obvious behaviours being exhibited and highlights some considerations that may create a more positive outcome at an individual level.

We have seen significant grass-roots responses to unrecognised needs by those in power in the form of Brexit. Now a surprise (to some) Trump victory. As life giving as change can be, it is not always positive. Enough wars show change can be damaging. Fear is palpable now. For many groups, if Trump seeks to fulfil his intent stated in his campaign speeches, there are real threats to loss of rights and liberty. Some of his early choices suggest he intends honouring, as far as possible, what he promised during his campaign.

Based on some of the more obvious behaviours being demonstrated since the Trump election win, here are some ways people react to change:

  • Polarisation and strengthening of positions: Ardent fighters for and against a change strengthen their positions and fight it out. The fight may be peaceful, or might descend as low as individual human morality allows. There will be a mixture of those aggressively assailing others with a different point of view, whether physically, emotionally or through power over. Others will assert themselves, clearly identifying who they are and what they stand for, without imposing on others. Mahatma Gandhi and his followers’ non-violent protests of British rule is a good example of the latter.
  • Run away and hide: This may be observed as people and groups getting busy with something else, a way of distancing from the pain of loss and occupying themselves with something they have control over. It may be literally exiting the scene, leaving the country, becoming a hermit, or otherwise divorcing self from the challenge of being or staying engaged.
  • Filter reality: Notice how many proponents of each side argue, using only the information (often opinions of others rather than real facts) that supports their view, and ignore anything counter to their position. This also shows when others are accused of falsehood when citing something that is counter to the position held. The media are getting a lot of flak for beating up situations if they merely mention something that doesn’t support promoted views.
  • Normalisation: “Give him a chance”, “Wait and see” and in a practical sense, sitting on one’s hands. Then, almost as in a frozen state of numbness nothing is said or done as ongoing change initiatives bring into reality the worst nightmares of those who voiced fear of the worst. For example,
    • Steve Bannon, former head of alt-right nationalists’ recommended media source, Breitbart News, appointed as Chief Strategist
    • Myron Ebell, a global warming denier, as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency
    • Trump’s own children being put forward for cabinet and advisory roles, and simultaneously running his and their own businesses, with a simple, “You can trust us.” Very basic ethical principles are trampled underfoot, and seems to be widely accepted as okay. Not if anyone else tried it!
  • Disavow any responsibility: “I don’t know”, “I didn’t realise this would happen?”, “How could I know?” Or as in Seth Meyer’s case, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, when challenged on calling Bannon ‘controversial’, he was unwilling to give an opinion because he had not met the fellow conservative. Seth Meyers, of the Closer Look program, called Meyers on this side-step well when he said, “I’ve never met John Wilkes Booth, but I let his past work inform my opinion of him.” It is as though many are running for cover and refusing to say anything that may impact their future position with the one in charge. They could do with taking Lucy Gennaro McClane’s advice to Matt Farrell in Live Free or Die Hard (aka Die Hard 4.0), “You need to grow a bigger set of balls!”

When facing change, we each have choice. We can allow fear to overcome us and react to what is happening from that place. We rely on the fear-based survival reactions fight, flight, freeze and fabricate. Alternatively, we can function from our personal power, and manifest the power-based thrive responses assert, attend, act and authenticate. The former requires little consciousness from us, with our amygdala (or reptilian brain) reacting to threat. The latter requires conscious choice and self-intervention to assure we behave in a manner that is of our choosing. The thrive responses also require that we are clear about and are congruent with our values, not relinquishing them when the going gets a little tougher.

What I experienced as warm, heart-felt and assertive was the plea and invitation offered to Vice President-Elect Mike Pence by the cast of Hamilton at the end of their show. The play was themed around freedom,  the constitution and diversity. After the final curtain call, Brandon Victor Dixon addressed Mr Pence, inviting him to listen, and said:

“We, sir, are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us — our planet, our children, our parents — or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir. But we truly hope this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us. All of us.”

New York Times, 19 Nov. 2016 (link)

Debate is as polarised around whether this was appropriate as it is on many other issues related to the election and subsequent events. One of the bigger questions is how to voice disagreement in an environment that seems hostile to any opinion counter to the future Commander-In-Chief.

While I have used very public examples from the follow-on of the Trump election, these behaviours often occur in change situations. The choices you make in response determine your contribution to the outcome. When confronted with change, particularly change you do not welcome, what do you choose to do? Do you voice concerns you hold? Do you assert what matters to you? Do you shrink away and leave it to others to work through? Do you get overwhelmed and find it all too much, unable to find anything you can constructively do? Do you look for what you can do, stay engaged and take some action? Do you blame others for what has happened? Do you act from a place of personal responsibility and ownership and attempt to help shape next steps?

Balance and Transition

Young Indian Ropewalker
Specialist balance and transition skills

It is common for people to say they want to be “grounded”, “centred”, “balanced”, “to find their equilibrium”, or “sink roots into the ground”, or “gain stability”. These are natural and important to maintaining a sense of self, though the degree of need differs from one person to the next. They also suggest movement and a desire to achieve a degree of stillness. In today’s rapid and dynamic environment, “balance” (the word I will use to summarise the ideas above) may be fleeting.

Balance is a capability we can learn and develop. As babies, we developed strength in our bodies to support ourselves, to shift from a prone position through crawling on all fours to walking on two legs. We also had to master balance. Balance is first learned in a still state, and then learned in conjunction with movement. A toddler clings to a door frame or a piece of furniture, developing their vestibular, visual, and skeletal and muscular systems awareness and capacity to hold themselves still and to balance. They take their first step. It is a whole new learning to reclaim balance after a step. It is true for us as we face transition. Transition requires us to relinquish balance, shift state, and then reclaim balance. Balance is not referring only to the physical sense of balance. It includes the balance we carry within our being in our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual aspects.

This process became vividly apparent to me two and a half years ago when I had surgery that cost me my right acoustic or vestibulocochlear nerve (losing hearing and balance capabilities of my right ear). After surgery, sitting up was a challenge. Over a few days I learned to sit up, stand up and walk around the ward with assistance. I then learned to walk on flat, hard surfaces, then flat grass, then sand, then uphill. My brain had to relearn how to balance because a significant portion of the information system it had relied on was gone. All that was with my eyes open. Shutting my eyes was both comical and frustrating. Initially, standing still and shutting my eyes saw me immediately fall. Over time this shifted to falling almost immediately, and then to ‘after a little while’. The visual system is a significant element of the capacity to balance. Lots of training later my capacity to physically balance is vastly improved, yet it is immediately and significantly impaired if one of the main remaining components of the system are disrupted (e.g. tired, blurred vision).

Some people are highly adept at regaining their balance as they hop from one place to another. Others need more time between steps to settle their sense of balance. As it is with our physical balance, so it is with our emotional, mental and spiritual senses of balance. Where balance in those areas are desired, these capabilities and skills can be developed. Once we develop balance-enabling skills we can then integrate them within our active life. For example, learning meditation and mindfulness practices can support emotional, mental, and spiritual balance. First learned as an independent skill, we can then choose how and to what degree we integrate them into daily life. Exercise, healthy eating, reframing perspectives on situations we face, and shifting our attitudes and beliefs that are not working for us are other examples of creating or finding space within ourselves even while facing change. They can help restore or strengthen our sense of balance. There is no single recipe for all. We each have our own needs around, and preferred approaches to restoring, balance. Whatever we choose to use, it is a conscious intervention into a hectic life. One of the toughest lessons with fast paced change is that slowing down within, and providing space for self, provides greater energy, focus and capacity to address the external world with greater effectiveness.

When I work as a coach with people in transition, part of what I bring is the recognition that the state of your inner world does contribute to your power and productivity in the outer world, and that balance and transition are immutably connected. The “balance” between balance and transition varies from one person to the next, yet it still features. How important is a sense of balance in your life? What constitutes balance for you? Do you experience a sense of disconnection from “being in balance”? How do you restore yourself at such times? Another way of restoring balance can be through coaching. Is working with and through transition important to you? How about giving coaching a trial? You are invited to have a free coaching session with me so you can experience coaching and determine if I am the right coach for you.