Individuals with high emotional intelligence may be more effective in managing change than individuals with low emotional intelligence is a key suggestion taken from Goleman’s 1998 Working With Emotional Intelligence. This makes a lot of sense.
Change of any sort provokes emotions. You’re not the emotionless business robot you might like to think you are and neither are the people around you. It is difficult to separate change management from emotional intelligence.
Organisational change will affect your mood, your mood will affect your behaviour and your behaviour will affect your performance. It’s far better to be aware of your emotions and the emotions of those around you rather than trying to pretend you’re detached if you intend to maintain or improve your performance.
There is a general belief that the emotional reaction to change is resistance. Continuity is safe and people are happy. Change means something new and new can be scary. You won’t be surprised to learn that it’s slightly more complex than this.
Death is an extreme form of change, but the Kubler-Ross grief cycle has been successfully applied to many other forms of change – especially organisational changes within a business. Plotting morale and competence against time, those undergoing change pass through several stages:
Shock, Denial, Frustration, Depression, Excitement, Decision and Integration.
Whether you’re adjusting to change yourself or helping others adjust to the change process, it’s clear that the same approach won’t work for someone in denial and someone full of excitement. Emotional intelligence and empathy allow you to understand where someone is on this change curve and therefore how best to support them.
This model captures an individual’s reaction to change rather well and allows you to form the basis of an effective communication strategy with them. The model has its limitations – it is, after all, only a model. Each individual’s journey is different, passing through stages at different rates, even in a different order or perhaps skipping some altogether. It certainly can’t be applied to a group.
However, while no models are perfect, all models are useful. The change curve provides a starting point – an aide-memoire to your own emotional intelligence. You might not know quite how someone is reacting to change, but you can look for tell-tale signs that indicate where they may be on this journey.
Understanding where you are, or where someone else is during the change process is only the first part of the story. But it’s a good start. Your knowledge of yourself and your staff will have to inform what you do with this information and help you form an effective strategy for change based on where people currently sit on the change curve.
Further emotional intelligence, empathy and communications skills will be required to successfully manage the change for your whole team, but knowing where to start is a huge help.