Helping people deal with changes. Understanding change and transition.

Updated: Oct 6



When my son turned one, a teacher and a friend of mine acknowledged that I was going through yet another transition in life. What was so fascinating and surprising (about it) was that the thought hadn’t occurred to me by then. I hadn’t realized that I was in a transition phase and surely wasn't giving it the attention it deserved. Neither was I aware of the power of transition.

Nonstop change is an inevitable reality of today’s world; to the extent that unless you resist change you may have become oblivious to it. Change is everywhere at work and in our lives and it is faster than ever. If you've become ignorant and unaware of it in your life, it is possible you might be missing an opportunity for growth and increased self-awareness like I was.

So, how do we make sense of change and transition? What changes have you gone through and how did you experience them? A change can be a new position at work, a new workplace, working remotely from home, a new project, new relationships, the birth of your child, moving to a new place, an organizational change, etc. In my work as a coach, I am helping people go through various changes. I am a facilitator of personal transition.

Change and transition are two different things. A change is a situation where something transforms and a transition is an inner process through which we come to terms with changes (Haneberg, 2016). What happens is that a person lets go of the way things used to be and gets comfortable with the way they are now. Transition is the phase of reacting to and getting comfortable with changes. We don’t pay so much attention to transition, but it’s where our beliefs, experiences, and emotions affect us the most, Haneberg says. 

One of the models to understand change is the Bridge’s Model which describes three phases of transition. They are Ending, Neutral Zone, and New beginning and described as follows by Haneberg (2016).

The key question here is: What do you need in each phase of the transition to move forward?

Ending

First, there is a loss and an ending. You leave your current job role or you let a friendship go. You leave behind the way things used to be, even if the change is perceived positively. And before you can transition to a new beginning, it is important that you let go.


Sometimes we resist giving up ways and practices that we are used to because we are reluctant to give up what feels comfortable. Who does want to feel discomfort? You may feel avoidant, shocked, angry, or careless. However; what you need most is to acknowledge the losses and mark the ending. 


During this phase, take time to 

  • Clarify what is and is not ending and acknowledge what’s real and where emotion or exaggeration might be getting in the way. 

Neutral Zone

This is a confusing, in-between state, where we are no longer in the past, but not yet in the new beginning. It can feel ambiguous and murky. If you feel currently lost, have you considered that you might be transitioning to something new?


For some, it is full of confusion and getting through that drains their energies. For others it makes them feel lost. Haneberg (2016) points out that we are driven to get out of the neutral zone; some of us rush ahead while others retreat into the past. Instead, we should remember that the neutral zone has a purpose. It can be a creative place. And that’s revelatory. Contrary to a commonly-held belief the neutral zone isn’t wasted and this is where the real transformation takes place. The change can only happen if the transition is being attended to. If the transition isn’t dealt with, the change may collapse. Haneberg (2016) says that “we need to come to grips with what is being asked of us before we can do the things the new situations require”. 

The neutral zone may bring forward both negative and positive feelings such as detachment, withdrawal, confusion, lack of attentiveness, indifference, creativeness, risk-taking, experimentation, and participation, even excitement. 

During this phase, take time to 

  • Determine what you do and do not know and create temporary practices for dealing with ambiguity. 

  • Pay attention to your own expectations during the time of uncertainty. 

  • You can also come up with ideas for new skills you may need in the new change. 

New beginning The not so good news is that the new beginning can only happen after you have let go of the past and have spent some time in the neutral zone. In the last phase, we accept the reality of the change and start to identify with the new situation. There is a deeper acceptance of what is. 


The new beginning requires us to behave in a new way and that tests our competence and sense of value. At this point, you are focused on purpose, have renewed energy, clarity, and competence. 


During this phase, take time to

  • Celebrate accomplishments, big and small ones, and talk about the setbacks, challenges, and successes.

What happens if we don’t follow through a transition? We are likely to react to things without being aware of our underlying reasons and have unnecessary drama involved. Plus, we might be missing our potential for creativity. The other day I had an outburst of frustration at home, which I'm not very proud of, but after reflecting on it I realized I wasn't so comfortable with the change I was facing. Acknowledgement of that helped me move forward.

Life is complex and the truth may well be that we are all going through changes - whether we acknowledge it or not. My last tip is to use coaching and coaches in these situations to transition better. I have personally found it really valuable. 


To do so, you can book a coaching session with me here.

Source: I have shared these ideas from a book called Coaching Basics written by Lisa Haneberg (2016).

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