This is a reminder that our reactions to change can vary enormously, even within the same person. Whenever change comes calling, it calls up loss. Even when we are the ones to create change, we are living the sense that if we don’t change, something less palatable will be the consequence.
The resulting tension between the demands of change and the threat of the same creates ambivalence and anxiety, which is part of any loss process. So, even when change is a form of innovation, or self-generated change, the forces at work need to be managed and worked with.
It is this blending of external demands with the necessary inner work to encourage real change that first attracted me to human relations practice.
Last month I facilitated a few days that harnessed the power of the seven stages of effective relationship. The initial phase has been summed up by a Swedish colleague as ‘saying hello’. Of course he knows it goes much deeper, and it does, but his translation is essentially accurate. I am saying ‘hello’ to my humanity, my humanness, my reality of being a social being. If I am in a safe and trusting relationship with others, even one other, I am more potent, adaptable and able to make choices, than if I am isolated.
Being safe enough helps me to work with change, especially if the other person has some skills to help me. For instance, understanding a few of the responses to change can help individuals be more effective or resilient in working with change:
- Impaired capacity to adapt – managing one change can impact on ability to manage another that arises.
- Reduction of tolerance – for those living with chronic levels of stress it doesn’t take much to reach a crunch point.
- Fixed positions – tendency to tunnel vision, inappropriate sustaining of independence rather than seeking help, unable to let go or opening alternative options.
- Displacement – committed to other more manageable aspects so as to postpone or fudge the acute issues, can be translated into blaming others.
- Drama – opting for dramatic games or distress reactions to postpone decisions until later.
To manage any of these in any real way, the challenge lies in the need to revise my assumptions, however briefly, about myself, my relationships and the world I live in. In the process of change my beliefs and attitudes undergo review, whether about the place I have in other people’s lives, my purpose, identity, status, self-esteem, or what kind of organisation or community I am now working and living within. For me to be free enough to consider making changes, and to work with the consequences, it helps to have people around who I feel connected to and who are there for me rather than carrying a hidden agenda of their own.
The initial tasks for an effective relationship that helps me work with change are two-fold: finding a way into relationship, and establishing rapport.
If I’m in a tough change process and under pressure I can be difficult to connect with, in denial or filled with false optimism. So discovering the best ways of saying an effective ‘hello’ can be hit and miss, and therefore exasperating. Be flexible and if at first you don’t succeed, try something different.
The second task is to establish rapport after some kind of ‘hello’. Rapport is a range of skills that help us get on the same wavelength, leaving me with a sense that we have a connection that is meaningful and authentic. This experience of connection is the first phase to helping me move beyond isolation or crisis into managing myself and really learning and developing. It’s the initiating power of ‘hello’ to help me regain my self-reliance in the company of others.