By Tiffany Monhollon
It’s like clockwork. Every thirty days or so for the last five months, a seismic shift at work.
What I’m focusing on is that I’ve learned a fair amount already. Both observation and mounting experience are incredible mentors in a pinch. Along the way, I realize that I’m learning some things at a breakneck pace, but one lesson is still presenting itself throughout the process. And that’s how to talk about a change you’re trying to figure out — precisely while it’s happening.
But it’s important to figure out how you’ll talk about change, because your speech shapes so much - you, others, the future. There’s an incredible power in language. Tone, illustration, metaphor. Each time I talk about the change, I hone my body language, inflection, examples. But as time has gone on and I’ve talked more about the change, I’ve also grown to understand it better, starting within myself. So here’s what I’m learning about figuring out how to talk about change that’s happening at work, wherever you talk about it.
Discover your reality.
Find a group of people or a quiet, safe place so you can talk out the reality change is bringing into your life. Get it all out. The good and the bad. When a change happens at work, especially one you didn’t fully understand or anticipate, your first impulse will probably be to go into denial or wait for someone else to tell you what to do next. Instead, take time to immediately and honestly diagnose exactly how the change will affect you, your co-workers, your friends and family. Your workload, your career, your ideas. Change doesn’t have to be a bad word. Which is where the next point comes in.
Envision a positive outcome.
Immediately choose to see the bright side of the change. Almost every time there will be one. So, even if you aren’t sure right away exactly what could be good about the change, decide you believe that it exists. This part takes a certain amount of faith, but it’s necessary. This part is mostly about self-talk. But it’s critical. Because how you talk to yourself about the change will shape your attitude. And attitude has incredible power. Not just over others, but also over yourself. So, it all cycles back around, and you can’t escape your feelings in the end. You won’t fool anyone, least of all yourself, if all you really see is a bleak, unpromising future ahead when change happens. So, after you’ve taken some time to hash out your reality, go right from challenges into believing there are opportunities. And then you’ll be ready for the next step.
Define the change as a benefit.
It’s so easy to focus on how change sucks. Believe me, I’ve had my days. Weeks even. But really, all that does is suck the life out of you and keep you from moving on. What I’ve learned is, there’s a narrow window of opportunity when change happens to influence new outcomes. So you have to be quick to the draw, (or however that saying goes.) But before you can do this, you have to figure out exactly what you want those outcomes to be. Here’s why it’s important to figure out how to influence new outcomes: to talk positively about change as time goes on, you have to actually move into the process of making that change really an actually great thing.
Wait. There’s an important point here I don’t want to gloss over. Because leadership during change is a tricky thing. Specifically, you may not have a title or formal leadership position. If you don’t, you may be tempted to let this hold you back. Push past the awkwardness of this, and continue on in this exercise. Because regardless of your position, tenure, or role, what your leaders need from you during times of change is your ideas, your energy, your solutions. And your advocacy. So, figure out how to talk about the change well right now whatever your title, because ultimately, your leader will appreciate this more than you may ever know.
So, to define change as a benefit, think of some specific, concrete examples of how the change is good. There’s a fair amount of creative flexibility here, that’s why I used the word “define.” Let go of your assumed constraints. Break out of some silos. Cross some scary boundaries, go crazy. Dreaming big may seem like a risk during a time of change — after all, who wants to be seen as an opportunist? But if there’s ever a time to take risks at work, it’s now. (And anyway, people who bring solid benefits during change are much more likely to be seen as strategists, problem solvers, team players.)
Choose your own change.
When change happens around you, you have two choices: stay the same and get swept away by the current, or remain and choose to be shaped by it. What’s hard about allowing change to shape you is that rarely do we see this as a choice, and rarer still as an opportunity. But it is. Every change that happens, whether at home or at work or in the grocery store, is an opportunity, if you choose to see if that way. When they run out of asparagus, go for the green beans. (This metaphor works for me, because who wouldn’t rather asparagus, but green beans work, too. The point is, something will work.)
Figure out how you will change in response to the change that’s happened to you. Make it your change, your opportunity. Make it about progress, not obstacles.
So, when you’re talking about change, these are the steps you need to go through first, to get your mind around what’s happening. So you can understand what to say. But just because you have to go to an almost insane positive extreme to project yourself into a future that’s moving forward doesn’t mean you forget reality when you talk about change. Because if you skip out on reality at this point, the only person you’ll convince is a maybe-delusional version of yourself.
Here’s how I pull this all together: “In the last five months, we’ve gone through a major restructuring.” It gets at the daily reality of what we’ve gone through and at the same time tells you that we’re moving forward. And that’s where I choose, every day, to be. In the progress you can create out of change. In the possibility you can embrace.
It’s also what I choose to say. Words like potential, possibility, progress. When you put them together with action, they’re not just words. They’re power.
So, say them more. And be them more. Starting today.
Talk it out.
Have you gone through change at work? Are you struggling to find a balance that explains your reality but empowers you to move forward? Let’s chat about change in the comments section. And if this post hit home with you, please share it on Twitter, or come chat with me there!
By Tiffany Monhollon | August 5, 2009