8 Common Emotions of Change – and How to Deal with Them

I speak frequently to pastors and ministry leaders – and some business groups – about leading healthy change. Every time I mention one thing any leader attempting change needs to understand – the emotions of change.

You cannot lead successfully if you do not understand every change has an emotion. Plus, if you don’t emphathise with those emotions – and, I’m not trying to sound dramatic here – you are either being cruel or ignorant as a leader.

So, how do you deal with the emotions of change. Well, let me offer a few suggestions.

Here are 8 ways to react to common emotions of change:

Fear

Give information. People usually fear what they don’t know more than what they do. During seasons of change it’s important to increase the level of communication.

Grief

Allow time to adjust – even to heal. There’s been a loss. The biggest objection people have to change is usually the sense of loss, which fuels the emotion. You don’t get over this immediately. Obviously, if a person can never get over it you may have to move forward without them. But, make sure you don’t move without them because you stepped on their season of grief.

Enthusiasm

Temper celebration when change is still hurting some people. Don’t slap those opposed in the face immediately. Of course, never say “I told you so”. That screams arrogance. Celebrate yes, but do it with taste when feelings are involved.

Anger

Give it time to see if it calms. Extend forgiveness where necessary. Allow people to express their anger without retribution. Anger is usually the result of unmet expectations. Don’t agitate even further by not following through on commitments made. Some people can’t move forward once they’ve gotten angry. They don’t know to move forward. But allow time to see if it’s just an initial, reactionary outburst.

Confusion

During times of change attempt to be the king of clarity. Use various methods of communication. People hear things in different ways. Make sure everyone hears you or has an opportunity to it they are listening. (And some won’t)

Loneliness

To address this one you have to somehow replace the loneliness people feel with something they can enjoy even more. It will take time. Again, some won’t get there, but if the change is worthwhile, most people will eventual see some value in the change – especially as it relates to their personal values. Bottom line here: Make good changes.

Sadness

Recognize and acknowledge that some people will have a genuine lack of happiness about the change. That’s okay. Don’t force it. Don’t expect it. Give it time. Sometimes giving them new roles within the change gives them relief from the sadness. But the best response here is to be patient with people. Sadness doesn’t heal under pressure.

Numbness

Energize them with the vision. Let the vision drive their enthusiasm. That means you have to repeat the vision often. Sometimes daily. And you celebrate vision accomplishment more than anything else you celebrate.

Any ideas you would care to share?

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5 thoughts on “8 Common Emotions of Change – and How to Deal with Them

  1. Thanks for the post and the suggestions.
    It seems that all boils down to 'take it slowly,' when it comes to dealing with the different emotions that come with change within your organization (although all the subtleties of the blog are very useful).
    I'm new to the blog and the several suggestions have been very useful to me and to my new ministry. I'm the 'change' that has been happening in my church and I sometimes feel that people are reacting in diverse ways, as far as I can tell.
    Thanks

  2. Good post, Ron. I would add into that list longing for the past or the situation that existed before the changes came. Grief usually dies down but sometimes it transforms into acute longing for the past and that longing takes more time to overcome. Unlike grief, longing is not easy to differentiate from other forms of emotions (or states of mind?).
    Longing is normal reaction and depends on persons capacity to adjust. I don't long for the Soviet Union, the nation where I was born. But I know a friend who left Turkey in early teenage years (more than forty years ago) and still longs for the past even though that past was not good.
    The danger of longing shows up when the longing individual refuses to deal with changes. Then longing may turn into escape mechanism.
    So it is minister's job to not just react emotions that follow immediately after the changes come. It is also his job to revisit people who experienced changes and check emotional climate in order to discover if there is any longing that eats someone away.

  3. Excellent article. The big one for me personally is grief. I hadn't realized the idea of some changes bringing grief. But just thinking of how radically the world seems to have changed in the last year or so does bring a form of grief. The view I had before of how life could play out for all of us has been radically changed and actually lost. That loss does bring grief.

    Thanks for pointing that out. Helps me understand this a bit better.