Hold on tight! Transition Curve Ahead

 

Every change sets off a transition process.  This is why you’re having all these feelings during this unprecedented time in history.  Although our understanding about this new corona virus is changing daily, the way we respond to change – the transition process – is well-understood,  predictable, and you’ve been through it before.  You know how.  You’ve got this. And you will not always feel this nutso.

 Reading Time:  4.5 minutes

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Change or Transition?

© 2020 Liz Williams

In his book Transitions, psychologist William Bridges separates change – an event in time – from transition, which is the psycho-emotional process of adjusting to a change.  Every change triggers the transition process with its predictable and sometimes tempestuous trajectory.

Take getting married, for example.  You look forward to your life as a spouse, a part of a unit, and that distracts from the fact that things you loved about your single life are coming to an end.  You no longer make decisions alone.  You are not as free to do what you want when you want to do it.  There are conversations, negotiations, creative solutions.

==> Every change initiates a trip through the Transition Curve

If changes we look forward to trigger the transition process, what about those we don’t choose?  Like not being able to shake hands, or showing your love by staying six feet away?  Even small changes like these can put as into transition:  I think of myself as warm, friendly person and I’m acting like a hermit.  It’s confusing and awkward.  Understanding what to expect is a big help in navigating your way through the transition curve.

The Transition Curve

ENDING or, “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.”

The transition process starts the moment you realize something has ended.  Denial is our instant response to this realization.  “Sure, we’re not in Kansas, but everything else is the same, right?  I mean, people still look like me and speak my language and….who are all those tiny people and why are they singing and…there’s a wizard?  Oh, c’mon.” Like Dorothy on the yellow brick road, your denial is peeled away, step-by-step, encounter by encounter.

As your denial ebbs, you become aware that you don’t know how to be anymore – you don’t know how to feel like yourself.  You don’t feel competent in the new reality, because you aren’t – it’s too new.  Although we don’t realize it, we get much of our sense of self from the way others respond to us.  When that response changes, it’s confusing and disorienting.  What used to work doesn’t anymore.   We can become confused about how we fit in to the new picture.  We can question our value.  Denial protects us from this questioning until we are ready to take it on.

“Just the facts, ma’am”

Facts, information and clear boundaries are what you need to get past your denial and through the Ending phase of transition.  If you are going to go through the discomfort of shifting the way you are in the world, there better be a good reason.

Letting go of denial can be as simple as accepting you’re going to be late to work because you keep getting off at the wrong exit so you’d better set your alarm earlier. It can be as complicated as the identity reset you’ll need to become a husband, wife, or parent. It can be the moment you realize that your clients or employees will need something different from you, something you might not know how to provide.

When you’re ready to accept that your sense of certainty has come to an end, and your former way of being in the world may not be a fit, you’ve entered the next phase of this normal, predictable process of transition.

THE NEUTRAL ZONE

The neutral zone is like putting the transmission of your car in neutral – no matter how much hard you pump that gas pedal, you’re going nowhere.  The neutral zone is all about not knowing, which is unpleasant for most of us.  Being confronted with what we don’t know can be nerve-wracking.  We’ll do anything to get back in gear, to feel like ourselves again.  We’ll jump back into denial, deciding to simply do what we’ve always done, consequences be damned.  Or we’ll will ourselves into the future, deciding that we know exactly what to do.  No matter which of these you try, you will end up back in the rich soup of the neutral zone, unable to mover forward and not yet ready to.  But you are very busy adjusting to a new reality.  It takes the time it takes.

 

Your job is to simply to stay here in the zone of the unknown, getting all the support you need.  Maybe there is a routine or practice you find nurturing and maybe you want the support of others.  It’s OK to slow down, to feel a little lost and to reach out. It’s OK to get cranky.  It’s OK to enjoy the downtime too.  It’s normal to swing between these two.  Eventually, you may start to feel anxious about not knowing when the neutral zone ends. You may start wondering why other people are not reacting like you are.  You may think, “what is wrong with me?”

Absolutely nothing.

Do what you can.  Swing over to denial.  Try something new.  Take risks. Fail.  Try again.  It’s OK.

You are OK.  This won’t last forever. How can I help?

These are the kinds of things you need to hear in the neutral zone – kind, supportive murmurings, a warm smile, a friendly gesture, all taking the pressure off.  The neutral zone is like someone dumping a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle on the floor, then hiding the picture of what it should look like after kicking a few of the pieces under the couch.  The time for facts is over – you need support.

BEGINNING

One day you’ll wake up and that nagging pain in your back will be gone.  Your optimism and focus are back, and you have more energy. You may feel calmer, more grounded, accepting.  You’ll find yourself humming as you get ready for the day, thinking how you’re looking forward to familiar routines or the adventure of trying something brand new.  You will once again feel like yourself.  And you’ll think, “This is great!    Can I keep it?”  Yes, you can.  It’s yours, or more accurately, it’s you.

Inspire me!

You are ready for inspiring talks fresh starts.  You’ve figured it out and gotten your mojo back.  Will you revisit the neutral zone?  Maybe.  While models like this one are linear, life isn’t.   It turns and swoops and curves back on itself before jumping ahead or pausing.  But you’ll be visiting those other phases, not living there.

What about my clients, employees, friends, family?

Everybody moves through a transition at their own pace.  Understanding where someone is helps you offer them what they need rather than offering them what you need.  For example, if you are struggling with the ending, you may share your denial or hammer others with facts.  If you are in the neutral zone needing support, you may offer support to others who are still in denial.  If you are all the way through the curve and offer inspiration when others need facts or support, you may sound like you’ve lost your mind.  This tendency, though natural,  is not helpful.

Listen, then meet others where they are

Just knowing about this transition curve will improve your communication and effectiveness 100-fold.  Listen to your clients, colleagues and employees.   Where might they be in the transition process?  Offer facts, support or inspiration, depending where they are, not where you need them to be.  It’s OK to be where you are too, and not heroically trying to inspire others when you are freaking out.   Consider telling your story, admitting what you don’t know and sharing your humanity with people.  Pause.  Wait for ideas about what to say or do to come.  They’ve never failed you before and they won’t now.  It just may take a minute longer.

So Many Ways to Say Shut Up, So Little Time.

Reading Time: 1.5 minutes

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“I understand.”

“I’ve got it.”

“I think what John is trying to say…”

“Thank you.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah.”

“uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh.’ (impatiently nodding head and waiting to speak)

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I’ve been noticing this in myself lately, the way I’ve adopted a conversational rhythm meant to hurry people along.  In my role as facilitator, I sometimes have a legitimate need to interrupt people, and I do, most often to ask them what the gist is.  “I’m having a hard time knowing what to pay attention to in all you’ve said.  Could you summarize it in a sentence?”

I find it hard to listen to an endless barrage of words and know what the speaker wants me to glean from it.  In the US, we give preference to people who talk a lot and often, believing it’s a sign of confidence and leadership.  It’s not, of course – it’s just extroversion.  Some leaders seem to have been taught that speaking is the same as leadership, so they start talking at the beginning of the meeting and don’t stop until it’s over.  These meetings rarely end on time.

Sometimes when everyone’s eyes are on me, I just start babbling, and I wish someone would interrupt me and ask that magic question:  What is it you are trying to say?  In those moments I need to be asked, because I’m running scared, talking because people are listening.

I want to interrupt these kinds of speech as an act of kindness and deeper listening.  I want to not say or be heard as saying “shut up,” but to be seen as asking to hear what the speaker really wants to say, even if they think it’s unacceptable.  Especially then.

In my quest I’ve noticed that “shut up” comes in so many forms, some of which are listed above.  I bet there are hundreds of them.  Do you struggle with this too?  Do you have strategies that work? Have you heard other ways we say “shut up” without appearing to?  Your comments are welcome.

One Situation, Three Kinds of Business

3 kinds of business: Mine, Yours and God’s

Mindset Mapping: Growth, Fixed or Mixed?

Icebreaker: What’s Your Rhythm?

Reading Time: 1 minute

Icebreaker Time:  10-15 minutes
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Here’s a drum circle technique you can use anywhere, even when you have to be really, really quiet.

1. Have a participant say their name, then tap our the rhythm of their name with their hands, either on the table or on their thighs as they say their name.

2. Have the rest of the group join in, tapping the rhythm and saying the name.

3. Ask the participant how it was to have everybody playing the rhythm of their name.

4. Ask others how it was to join in.

5. Do it again with someone else in the group until you run out of time.

6. (Optional):  Debrief with the entire group

Tips

  • Use first and last name (sometimes the first name is too short)
  • Use a word or phrase instead of a name. For example, a team could drum it’s values, one at a time, reflecting on what each felt like when played.
  • Vary the speed, volume or style, either by demonstrating or by asking questions “What would it sound like louder, quieter, slower, rock and roll style?” etc.

This simple exercise is a mindfulness meditation.  It gives participants a different way to simply accept and be touched by another’s offering.  In addition, having your name drummed by others can be a powerful experience. Drumming a word or phrase that has meaning for the team can be similarly powerful – it’s a way to sit with a word or phrase before deciding whether you agree or disagree with it.  Slowing our rush to judgement helps us become present with one another.

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