Kay. C. Dee
Recently, I wrote a post about a change agent colleague who was working on reframing negative feelings into more positive, action-oriented points of view. This isn’t an easy process. Although I’d call myself a fairly experienced change agent, I still sometimes wrestle with impatience and frustration when faced with resistance to a change I believe in and am working to implement. Today I’d like to share some strategies for handling those (perfectly normal) negative emotional reactions, and balancing those emotions with logic – which then allows deliberate reframing of situations, as discussed in the previous post.
The first suggestion is to practice coping ahead of time. For example, you may know that you will need to have a difficult conversation about your change effort with someone who is highly resistant to change. Drawing from dialectical behavior therapy skills, you might:
- In writing or verbally, describe the situation in which the conversation will likely take place. Be as specific as possible, and name the emotions you are likely to feel during that conversation.
- Decide what coping or problem-solving skills to use during the conversation. Plan ahead, and describe your coping strategy in detail.
- Imagine the situation as vividly as possible, placing yourself in the situation as an active participant.
- Rehearse the conversation. Imagine your actions, your thoughts, and the possible responses of your conversational partner. Practice (out loud) what you will say and how you will say it. What is the worst, most catastrophic way that your conversational partner might react? How would you calmly respond to and cope with that scenario?
- Relax after you’ve rehearsed, and let any residual negativity evaporate away.
The second strategy will be useful if you find yourself having a hard time coping with or relaxing after the practice outlined above. It will also be useful if you find yourself experiencing strong negative emotions in anticipation of a meeting, presentation, or conversation. This strategy is directly quoted from Linehan’s DBT® Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets – “Examining our thoughts and checking the facts can help us change our emotions”. How to check the facts: Continue reading “Navigating Rough Weather: Emotion Regulation Techniques for Change Agents”
Kay. C. Dee
I once announced to a psychologist that during that day’s session, we were going to play a game called “That’s Perfectly Normal.” I would tell him something that I was thinking or feeling, and he would respond with “That’s Perfectly Normal!” and then describe why. It was a reassuring (and entertaining) game, and I recently found myself playing the other side of this game with a colleague who has been leading a major curricular change effort.
In this short blog venue, I can’t fully describe the amount of energy, effort, collaboration, communication, and social/political capital that my colleague has invested in this change effort over the past two years. As I am writing this post, their institution’s faculty assembly is preparing to vote on whether or not the change will be implemented. As a change agent navigating their way through a great deal of peer judgement about their project, my colleague has been thinking and feeling a lot of Perfectly Normal things right now. For example:
- My change project is being held to standards that are far higher than are expected of any existing project. I resent that. Some of the people calling for additional assessments, information, and review processes sound hypocritical to me.
- Others are using my change project as political leverage or a bargaining tool to try to achieve their own goals. I am bewildered by this. My project has nothing to do with Program X’s ability to hire an administrative assistant, or whether Program Y’s proposal for a second major is likely to be approved. Why is my project being dragged into these discussions?
- People with no expertise in the subject matter of my change are challenging my experiences in and mastery of that subject matter. This makes me feel resentful and disrespected.
- I’m being told that people who I thought supported me and the broad goals of my project are saying negative (and untrue!) things about me and my motivations for undertaking this project. This is disappointing and painful. I don’t want to get involved in gossip, but at the same time, I want people to think well of me and to understand my actual motives for this change.
- People who aren’t aware of all the constraints I have been working under, and who have never championed a similar magnitude of change, are telling me that I should have handled things differently – and that if I had done so, I would not be experiencing the current level of consternation over the proposed change. This frustrates me. I think it’s meant to be helpful constructive criticism, but I guarantee that I did the best I could with what I had to work with. At this point, I kind of just want these people to shut up!
Continue reading “That’s Perfectly Normal”