7 Essential Skills for Managing Change

It’s a cliché, but change has always been the only constant. In recent times, the pace of change has accelerated greatly, and we all need to find ways to deal creatively with this fact of modern life. Leaders, in particular, need to face and manage change in a constructive way, but everyone who wants to be successful – in career, in relationships, in life – must learn how to see and manage change the way that successful ‘change leaders’ do. Such leaders are adaptable and creative in managing change in three key ways:

1. People who respond well to change will have a high ‘ambiguity threshold.’

Change is inherently ambiguous, and those who deal creatively with change will have a high tolerance for uncertainty and ‘shades of grey.’

2. Skillful managers of change will have a constructive ‘internal monologue.’

They will see themselves as inherently powerful and having the ability to control elements of the situation in which they find themselves. Some circumstances cannot be changed, but the way we respond to them is always a choice, and we always have a sphere of influence, however small. By focusing on this sphere of influence, and not expending energy bemoaning the area outside it, the circle will start to expand and give us progressively more control. Solutions to problems always exist, and the ‘internal monologue’ should reflect the desire to find them and the certainty that they can be successfully implemented.

3. Those who deal well with change will have a good reservoir of emotional, physical and mental energy.

Leaders draw on this reservoir when things get tough.

Managing Change

The above ways of dealing with change tend to be innate, with some people having a greater capacity for one or more of them than others. However, they can be learned, and the following are seven tips for improving your skills in managing change.

1. Spend time reflecting on your own core values and your mission in life.

A sense of purpose is essential to success and effectiveness, and those without a clear idea of what they are doing and why they are doing it will not have the foundation to keep going in the face of change.

2. Be persistent.

Success is usually more to do with tenacity that genius. Persistence is only possible when you have clarified your values and when you are able to build on the bedrock of purpose. Successful people keep going in the face of change, finding new and creative ways to achieve a positive outcome.

3. Be flexible and creative.

Persistence does not mean pushing through by force. If you are unable to achieve success one way, try another, and then another. Keep looking for more creative solutions and innovative responses to problems.

4. Think outside the box.

Read widely, and don’t confine yourself to your own area of ‘expertise.’ Try to see links between apparently separate and diverse elements in your life and experience.

5. Accept uncertainty and be optimistic.

Life is inherently uncertain, so don’t waste your energy trying to predict the future. Of all the possible outcomes, focus on the most positive one. This is not to be a ‘Pollyanna,’ but to accept that if you respond well and work to the best of your ability, a good outcome is as likely as any other. Don’t waste your energy being negative.

6. Keep fit and healthy.

Eat well, get enough sleep, exercise regularly. Meditation can help, too. This will keep up your energy levels and allow you to keep going in tough times. Not taking care of yourself physically, mentally and spiritually is foolish and short sighted.

7. See the big picture.

Change is inevitable, but if you take a bird’s-eye-view of the landscape, the change won’t be so disorientating and you will keep perspective at all times.

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24 thoughts on “7 Essential Skills for Managing Change”

  1. 2. Skillful managers of change will have a constructive ‘internal monologue.’

    I love the way you put this! Our self talk is so important in life as change is inevitable. The whole list is great stuff, Peter. I good read for me in my current circumstances. I guess it was ‘timely’ as many say. :-) Eric.

  2. I definitely agree with Michael that managing change begins with managing your own thoughts, feelings and reactions to change. Our natural instinct is to fear change, which leads us to make fear-based decisions in the face of change.

    Learning to accept and even embrace change as a way of creating positive opportunities in your life puts you much more in line with responding in empowering ways to those changes.

  3. It is very important to think outside the box and be creative/flexible. This allows you to continuously progress and evolve. It allows you to change for the better. Change is great!

  4. You’ve touched on the most important aspects of change and dealing with it. My favorite is the high ambiguity threshold. When I took a photography class the prof pointed out that photos we call black and white actually have about 18% gray.

    As soon as we get comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty, we are ready to embrace success and happiness.

  5. Michael,

    Thank you for this article. Change is, of course, inevitable and ever-happening. But recent events mean there are many many people whose lives are being thrown into disarray.

    I like all your points, but the one that stands out to me is “#5: Accept uncertainty and be optimistic”. I don’t know about other people, but for me changes that initially appear to be bad often work out in my favor.

  6. Number 6 is key: stay healthy and fit.

    I have a more difficult time coping with change on days when I didn’t sleep well the night before or I missed my morning walk. Change takes a lot of energy.

  7. Great suggestions, Mark! I find that the value of persistence is often overlooked, but the ability to return, and continue returning to what we’re trying to accomplish is so important. So often we give up at the first failure, or even at the first lull, when the newness has worn off and what we’re trying to do gets hard.


  8. The most important is the “Will to Change” and than comes No.2 ” Be persistant” its like drop after drop of water falling on rock, making a dent the change.

    And Number 3.”Be Flexible and Creative”, if you have the opportunity try adopting different options. Sure way towards light!!!

    A deadly combination.

  9. Everybody is changing, all the time. We do have the ability to ignore this fact and so we live in a “smaller” world. Its not that some people don’t or can’t change, its just that some people can’t notice that they do.

    We can support each other by witnessing each others change and observing and approving of growth in its different forms.

  10. I really like the reflecting on our values and mission in life. It’s so important to know what we are about. That will inform how we respond to change that happens to us or that we voluntarily create. Without knowing our values and mission we’re adrift and subject to the winds that can blow us about. Knowing them we can help us navigate through change and be flexible as we’ve got a bigger sense of what we’re about.

  11. Funny to find your blog. I was trying to fall asleep, but was thinking about how infrequently I change my mind. I googled, “How do you change your mind?” and found that you asked the same question. I am very curious as to your thoughts about how a person changes their mind about their self-concept (often imprinted in childhood with many years of “evidence” piled on)? Our minds seem very protective of our beliefs as to ourselves. Is the psychology/mechanics of changing dependent on circumstance (what to wear versus who I am). You all seem well versed in change, so your thoughts will be very much appreciated.

  12. change sometimes instigates fear, because of the uncertainty.
    yet, we need to throw that fear away
    and embrace the uncertainty, esp when we know the change is for the better

  13. That is a great post. As a trainer I have to support adults to change every day and it is very difficult. It is already difficult to change yourself but trying to help others to change that might not even see the need to change is even harder. In addition to the 7 skills listed by Michael here, the book SWITCH by Dan and Chip Heat deals with change and is very easy to read with a lot of practical examples.


  14. Your post is really interesting.

    Accept uncertainty and be optimistic : It is a very good point. Many of us decide to change our life but this process is sometimes accompanied by a big decision to take and a risk. A big change generates uncertainty. Accepting uncertainty and being optimistic play a very important role in having a successful outcome.
    Earl Nightingale presents in his book Lead The Field an exercise to apply in order to stop worrying about the future!

  15. Be sure to shift your job’s priorities to match the changes in organizational priorities. Align yourself with any changes in values and culture. Adjust your approach to fit the personality and management style of new leaders. Get busy developing new competencies if your skills become outdated.

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