The University Record, June 11, 1997

Adjusting to change needn't be difficult; do it in stages

By Mary Jo Frank
Office of University Relations

People adjust to change in stages, much as they cope with death or other losses in life, author and keynote speaker Maureen Burns told University staff members who attended Workplace 2000, a career development conference held June 3--5.

The initial reaction to change often is fear, which is good, according to Burns, because it increases alertness and forces people to think more clearly. Fear is followed by other stages: resistance, compliance, acceptance and eventually support for the change.

Noting her personal aversion to change---from resisting a new hair style to always gravitating to the same church pew, Burns said, "We're all so set in our ways. We all have sacred cows." Many women, who must accomplish numerous tasks in a normal day, rely on routine so they can get everything done, she added.

The mother of four grown children, Burns cited the way toddlers learn to walk as an effective way to approach change. No one expects to put shoes on a 10 month-old and see the child begin walking like an adult, she noted. Instead, parents and others provide support during the transition from crawling to walking and the child begins by taking baby steps.

For those who want to become more comfortable with change, she suggested baby steps: sitting at a different seat at the dinner table or driving to or from work by a different route.

In the workplace, change can result in stress, anger and low morale, she noted. Staff who must adjust to changes in their work environment need time and a safe place to express themselves. If the feelings of anger aren't expressed, they will linger, resulting in other problems, she predicted.

Burns, author of Run with Your Dreams and Forgiveness---A Gift You Give Yourself, cited four resources to help individuals deal with change:

· Attitude. She encouraged audience members to maintain an open mind and be prepared to stretch, noting that "we can all do more than we think we can if we stretch." Expecting the best, leading by example and having faith in yourself all contribute to the positive attitude that helps people successfully navigate change.

· Self. When filled with doubts resulting from impending changes, Burns suggested listeners remind themselves of all the previous crises they've coped with successfully. "We often don't give ourselves enough credit," she added.

· Supportive people. Surround yourself with supportive people and avoid negative people and negative thinking---both of which will bring you down, she predicted.

· Stress reducers such as exercise and adequate sleep.

"The more tools we have to balance the stress in our lives, the better off we are," Burns said.

No matter what the particular change situation, every change brings with it a gift---the opportunity to grow, according to Burns.

About 1,000 staff members attended the 18th annual career development conference, "Navigating Change: Tools for Transition," sponsored by the Human Resource Development and Conference Management Services.