In the ’80s cult comedy favorite Strange Brew, the bad guys have cut the brake lines to the van of our beloved good guys, the McKenzie brothers. When the brakes fail, the brothers are perilously driving down a steep hill, out of control, their demise imminent. At that moment, Doug turns to his brother, Bob, and says, “No point in steering now.” There’s not a day that goes by during this pandemic when I haven’t felt that same sentiment. The same goes for a lot of our clients, who are dealing with constant changes in their budgets and contract terms, or with clients and suppliers. Coping with change has become a skill unto itself. Here are some tips that, we find, are helping people to deal with these changes.
I know it doesn’t sound like a negotiation technique, but it is! All of the things that happen in the midst of an unexpected change — increased heart rate, quickened breathing, and spiked blood pressure — decrease when you breathe deeply and relax. When you’re experiencing stress, it’s difficult to respond to situations calmly and rationally.
When there’s an unexpected change, keep your cool and find your composure before responding. Answering while emotionally charged may lead to unintended consequences that can’t be undone.
Find Out Why
When you get that call or email about a change, don’t assume you know the reason for it — instead, verify it. Ask the basic “who, what, where, when, and why” questions. Who does the change impact? What caused the change? Where will the change happen? When is the change happening? Why is the change happening?
The information you gather will be critical to how you formulate your response. It’s important to reassess the other party’s priorities and needs before you respond. It’s also an opportunity to understand if any of the other fundamentals of the changed agreement have shifted, as well as the potential implications of the changes.
Assess the Implications
Newton's First Law of Motion states that a body in motion will remain in motion, unless acted upon by an outside force. It’s one of the reasons why we tend to resist change: Once we’re in motion, we want to stay in motion. Change (an outside force) suggests that we need to change. To what extent we need to change is what we need to assess.
I had a professor, Thomas DeLong, who once said, “All ambiguous behavior is viewed negatively.” If we don’t understand the implication of the change, we tend to assume the worst possible consequences. However, oftentimes our worst fears never come to pass. So before you react, understand and assess the implications of the change.
Once you’ve done the above, attempt to find control with a measured response, which will be dictated by the situation itself. If the impact of the change is . . .
- Negative: Attempt to delay the impact for as long as possible, or until you’re in a better position to receive the change.
- Positive: Lean into and embrace the change as quickly as you can.
- Neutral: Keep your options open and stay the course.
In the end, be mindful of how your response will set a precedent for the future. What may be good for you in the short-term may not be good for you in the long-term.
And while it might be tempting to “stop steering,” I don’t think Doug McKenzie got this one right. Instead, hold onto the steering wheel, catch your breath, get a little curious, assess the change, and act accordingly. Oh, yeah — and get ready for the next change!