By Geoff Henderson, Head of Operations and Performance
Connie says when people feel threatened and unsafe, there are significant neurochemical and blood-flow changes that result in less brainpower being available for higher-order thinking, memory and problem-solving.
“Employees gain a sense of predictability and control when leaders provide information, clarity about what to expect, and resources for dealing with the change,” says Connie. “This reduces the anxiety and discomfort associated with uncertainty.”
Here are five strategies for effectively dealing with change from BrainWise Leadership.
1. Communicate, communicate, communicate
Frequent communications during times of change, including face-to-face conversations, helps to build employee resilience during uncertainty.
“Given employees may have reduced capacity to ‘take-in’ new information when they are stressed, leaders should repeat and reinforce important messages through multiple channels,” says Connie. “It’s also important to communicate on both a factual and emotional level.”
2. Express and label emotions
People tend to shut-down or go into avoidance mode when they feel stressed or unsafe. The simple act of labelling emotions and expressing how you feel – verbally or in writing – has been associated with immediate reductions in perceived stress levels and an improvement in memory, concentration and attention.
Connie says labelling emotion enables people to tap into the ‘thinking’ part of the brain instead of being limited to the ‘emotional’ part, thereby creating a ‘neurological bridge’ that helps us use this information more productively. She also says it’s important not to evaluate the worthiness of emotions; just recognise them for what they are – information.
“Leaders often make the mistake of either thinking they have to solve their employees’ problems – by taking on the role of ‘fixer’ – or somehow rid them of their emotions by ignoring people’s losses,” says Connie. “In fact, simply listening attentively demonstrates respect, compassion and provides employee with the opportunity to begin to think more clearly about how they wish to deal with the issue at hand.”
3. Stay active and healthy
When people are under stress, they often neglect their health at a time when their brains need more neurological TLC. Getting enough sleep, exercise, nutrition and social interaction not only helps to increase brain chemicals that are essential for learning but also reduces stress hormones that can impair thinking, memory and coping.
“People have a greater sense of control when they are active,” says Connie. “This can include activities related to the organisational changes as well as assisting people to take an active role in their own health and wellbeing during the difficult period.”
4. Focus on people’s strengths
Research has shown that leaders who routinely focus on strengths have employees who are more engaged and productive. Cultivating an atmosphere of achievement primes the brain to think about success, which has been shown to result in more persistence and effort.
“Effective leaders encourage people to take an active role in adapting to organisational changes,” says Connie. “This can include encouraging peer support and collaborative problem-solving related to coping with change.”
Connie says creating the conditions that give people the opportunity to use their strengths and experiences to creatively tackle challenges not only improves the likelihood of the problems being successfully solved but also builds the capability and confidence of those people most directly affected by the changes.
5. Create new connections quickly
Often in change situations people are required to quickly form working relationships with new colleagues, clients or suppliers. Connie recommends scheduling a few brief initial meetings with a break in between, which quickly enables you to develop a sense of familiarity with the other person/team.
“Our brains like predictability,” says Connie. “Even the simple expectation and repetition of saying hello the second time to the same person is calming to the brain.
“Understanding and working with the natural functioning of our brains can help us overcome hesitancies when working with new people.”
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Do you have any tried and tested strategies for managing change? Please share them below.