The one thing that is just about guaranteed to create conflict is change. Change leads to stress and we know that people who are stressed tend to have more painful, “bad” conflict in their lives, which leads to more stress and a downward-spiraling situation. Yet change is an integral part of life, so how can we minimize unhealthy conflict during times of particularly intense change?
The type of conflict that arises from change depends on our response to the change. So let’s look at change.
Change can seem chaotic to the people involved, but change follows a distinct pattern. Becoming aware of the process we go through when adapting to change can help greatly. At the very least, it helps us know that what we’re going through is normal. Knowing the pattern allows us to see more clearly how to make the most of the change, while reducing the fear, uncertainties, and stress, which can keep unhealthy conflict in check.
The first stage of change is the end of the old way. We often think of change as responding to something new, but this, by definition, requires us to let go of the old.
Yet we don’t get to jump right to the new way. First we have to go through a fallow time that is neither just old nor new, but something of both. This is the wilderness or limbo phase and is generally quite uncomfortable for most of us. We don’t know what will happen or when. It’s out of our control and the only way to get through this phase is to wait it out and don’t lose hope.
Next the new way really begins. Often, this is where we all want to rush ahead to instead of grieving the old and hanging out in the wilderness phase. But once we get there, it feels new, risky, and it’s solid evidence that the old way is truly gone. Successfully adapting requires a willingness to take on the new identity as someone who accepts the new reality.
It is not, however, as straightforward and chronological a process as it sounds – the phases overlap each other and we circle around to revisit phases as the change unfolds.
How do we reduce conflict during this process? Well, first, try not to take out your anxiety too much on those around you. When it happens, be free with apologies. A change for one person can have a long reach to those around them. Reorganization at work affects the spouse, kids, even friends – at the very least, they have to listen to all the stories about what a pain the change is.
If you are the one going through the transition most directly, it helps to acknowledge and remember that you are “not yourself” while part of your identity is shifting. Lower your expectations about how much you can accomplish, your ability to focus, and even your moods.
If you are less directly impacted, recognize that a change for someone close to you is a change for you, as well. Be aware that your spouse, your child, or your friend will have to become at least slightly different as part of adapting to change.
It always helps to use your communication tools. Listen to others’ concerns about how a change is affecting them, how it’s changing your behavior, and their fears and hopes about the change. Figure out what you’re feeling and share that, as well as your fears and hopes, with trusted others.
Life is full of constant change, but the resulting conflict doesn’t have to be all bad. When we become aware of where we are in the cycle of change, we can help reduce the stress we feel and its negative impacts on those around us.