Control What You Can; Namely Yourself


I suspect that you have had times in your work life where things were going on around you that you had very little if any control over. Perhaps the company you worked for was experiencing a hostile takeover, some new software program was being rolled out that you didn’t see the need for or your job itself was being made redundant and you were being reassigned to another department. Things as I say you had no input into or could not stop from happening.

Now while the above represent some pretty strong changes, your own experience might be something such as being told your shifting from one desk to another; from that spot with a window to the outside world to a cubicle in the middle of the floor where no natural light penetrates.

Whenever these kind of situations present themselves, many people have an immediate urge to push back, resist the change and fight it with all the energy they have.  Like an animal being backed into a corner, this is when some people are at their most dangerous. Employees who quietly go about doing their jobs suddenly become vocal opponents, charged with energy and committed utterly to maintaining things as they are.

What’s at the heart of things for many people is the perception that the changes around them are being done to them.  They haven’t been in on the discussions that went on in the background and so when the announcement is made announcing changes, it comes as a shock. So much so that their shock is manifested through questions like, “Why weren’t we consulted?” “Is there anything I can do – we can do – to fight this change?”

Most of the time, the energy put into resisting change would be better applied to getting on board with the change. In fact, the faster you accept the news – whatever it is – and adapt to the changes big or small, the healthier it will be for your mental state of being. I admit though, for many its a hard thing to do. I mean it’s one thing to know on an intellectual basis that change is inevitable and quite another thing to experience it on an emotional level and react calmly and be accepting of change right away. For some people it takes a great deal of time to accept and adjust to new changes, especially if they are sweeping.

It may be that people who have experienced a lot of change in their personal and professional lives adjust to new changes faster and better than others. So yes, perhaps if your family moved many times growing up, you find it easier to adjust to changes in being moved from one desk to another or one department to another than say, a co-worker who has a long history of staying in one place. Likely too, if you find the new place has a positive in it, such as being closer to the lunchroom or further away from someone you don’t work that well with personally, you can find reasons to ease the transition.

The one thing you and I always have complete control over when it comes to dealing with changes is our reaction to those changes. Make no mistake, it’s control and the clear loss of it that most often causes the emotional disruption. “Don’t I have a say in things?” Doesn’t my view have any importance?” These are the kind of expressed feelings that display a lack of control; no one consulted us and asked us about the pending impact the changes would have on us.

The best time to think about how we will react to any news of sweeping changes is when changes are not occurring; when things are fairly normal. This is when we can rationally think about how we’d respond, how we’d react in some hypothetical situation. Like planning for some disaster at work and putting into place our emergency response procedures on a dry run, it’s all about preparing for shocking news and knowing how to best gain a measure of control in what might be otherwise a debilitating situation. Control what we can and gain some traction.

One of the most immediate things we can do is consciously let new information sink in when we hear it without reacting. Make sure what we think we hear is what was actually said. Hearing the news – whether it’s covering for a workers unexpected absence for the day or relocating to the other side of the office permanently, making sure we received the news accurately is essential.

Secondly, we have to decide if the news is huge or small, and be aware of not over reacting. We’re being pulled for the day and covering someone’s workload, it wasn’t expected when we walked into work first thing but in the grand scheme of things, it’s a small disruption. The faster we accept the change and put energy into complying, the better for all concerned.

Big news and big changes understandably cause more disruption. However, the same principle applies. The sooner we accept the news and keep or regain our composure and control the better; we’ll be better equipped to respond appropriately and get on with things.

If you want to learn to adapt better for your own mental health, start with a conscious pause when you hear news affecting your work.