Let’s Talk About Change

talk about change

Have you ever been excited about making a change in your life … only to feel completely deflated by someone’s reaction?

Or have you ever faced a difficult change … and had it made worse by someone else’s reaction?

The people around us – friends, family, colleagues – aren’t always as supportive as we might wish, especially in times of change. They might offer lots of advice – you know they mean well, but it drives you crazy. They might be very negative about the change, telling you it’ll never work out – and that’s often the last thing you need.

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to this: you can’t make the people around you respond to your news in just the way you’d like. You can, however, ensure that you’re emotionally prepared for a potentially not-so-great reaction … and you can control the manner in which you deliver the news.

When the Change May Take Some Time

If you’re embarking on a change that’s inevitably going to take some time, you may want to think about who best to tell in the early stages.

For instance, if you’re starting a new diet, you might prefer not to tell all your friends, family and colleagues – as you may get unhelpful comments. (Anything from “Oh, you don’t need to diet!” to “I’ll believe it when I see it.”)

Of course, some people do find that social support and accountability helps – but you may want to build your confidence by waiting until your diet is established before confiding in anyone beyond close friends and family.

The same applies to other time-consuming changes, especially ones that may not be fully under your control. If you and your partner are trying for a baby, for instance, you might not want to tell anyone at all – that way, you won’t have constant enquiries of “Any news yet?”

Remember: You are in control of when you choose to talk about a change. Try to pick a good time to tell people, perhaps once you’re feeling confident and strong.

When the Change May Provoke Disapproval

Sometimes, you just know that certain relatives, friends, or colleagues are going to try to talk you out of a change – or tell you that you’re being stupid.

Some lifestyle changes can provoke strong reactions. Perhaps you’re getting divorced, and you think some of your relatives will be angry or upset. Maybe you’re quitting your job in order to become self-employed, and you suspect that your friends won’t understand.

It’s normally up to you whether or not you tell people about a specific change, but there’ll be some circumstances where you don’t really have a choice.If you’re getting divorced, for instance, your immediate family and social circle are going to know about it sooner or later.

Something you will find, though, is that people don’t always react the way you expect! Your curmudgeonly aunt might prove a sudden bastion of support. Your high-earning friend might confess a desire to also leave the rat-race.

Remember: You can’t live your life to please other people, so don’t be too anxious about negative reactions. You may well find that you’ve magnified the worries in your own head – some people will be more supportive and encouraging than you expect.

When the Change Isn’t Under Your Control

Sometimes, you’ll have a change forced upon you. Perhaps you’ve been made redundant at work, or you’ve discovered that you’re facing a health issue. You might well feel anxious, angry, upset … but you may also be trying to focus on positives.

Telling people may, in some cases, make you feel worse about the change. Perhaps you’ve decided to make the best of redundancy, for instance, finally pursuing the career of your dreams … only for your relatives to talk as though it’s the end of the world.

Think in advance about how you want to frame the change. Saying “I’ve been feeling very anxious about…” is going to make the whole thing seem negative. You might want to start instead with the bare facts – “I’ve been made redundant” – and then follow this with something positive, like “Even though it means money will be a bit tight, this is actually a blessing in disguise – I’ve been thinking about a career change for a while.”

Remember: By being positive, even in difficult circumstances, you’re giving a cue to other people to respond the same way. If you’re worried about getting upset or angry when you talk about a difficult change, consider telling people in writing, or asking a mutual friend to pass on the news.

What changes are you facing right now? Are you anxious about telling people – or telling a particular person? If you’d like some support, or if you’d like to share your experiences, just leave a comment below.

Photo by mikebaird

16 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About Change”

  1. Hi Ali,

    This is good advice for navigating any kind of life change, particularly if we’re trying to do it without the well-wishes of those close to us. It’s a strange phenomenon, when someone who you’ve expected support from responds very coolly to a new resolution. I think people can become invested in our thinking and behaving a certain way, even if it isn’t necessarily good for us. That’s why, for example, alcoholics who try to recover may find old friends tempting them openly, hoping they’ll slip back into the old ways. Perhaps it’s because when WE decide to change it naturally makes the people close to us examine they way THEY’RE living – and this is something they may not be keen on doing.

    1. Thanks Seth. I’ve certainly had moments of surprise (in good and bad ways) in terms of how people respond — and I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there that people can sometimes feel threatened by our change.

  2. I have started learning the guitar lately and you should see the reaction I got from my parents, particularly my dad. He was very critical about it and constantly pestered me to quit. He says that I’m not the right age to learn it (I’m 19, can it get any better?).

    I just snub him and continue playing anyway. It’s been a month since I started playing it and I’m doing pretty good.

    So, what I learn is, there’s gonna be negative reactions anyway, you just gotta do what you think is right and stick with it.

    Nice post, Ali!

    1. Keep it up! Maybe once your dad sees that you’ve stuck with it and that you’re getting good, he’ll start to understand it’s important to you.

      I don’t think there’s ever a *bad* age to learn something new. Of course, some skills come a little easier when we’re young (like learning a language) — but then, as we get older, we have more life experience to apply to each new change in life.

  3. Hello,

    thanks for this post, it’s an important issue especially for a person like me who is used to receive approval and nice reaction for all my actions from my parents.

    I’m 30, I live alone and in another country (Spain, and my family stays in Russia). It’s hard to be an immigrant by I work hard and really have things well done: Master of business management finished here, a good job, looking for another new job, made some new friends, everything in 2 years.

    Recently I’ve met a guy who I’m sure I was looking for all my life. I know he is very serious about me, and we want to get married soon. And it’s not that I just believe my heart, no, I really think about pros and cons, I ask serious questions etc.
    He lives far from here, and we met when I was on holidays. He is yonger than me, does not earn much and has children from another relationship. All my friends support me, as they believe that people may be designated one for another, and if he loves me and I love him, we’ll be able to be together.

    But with my parents, always supportive, it’s difficult. My mom says: “He will leave you with the kids”. But if a guy did a mistake when he was 17, does this mean that he will leave a woman he really loves with her future kids? don’t think so.

    So it seems that my mom and dad just pretend that this issue does not exist. We talk about everything but not about my personal life. It was really hard initially, as I’m used to get their support. But currently I believe that my boyfriend and I will convince them step by step. When they see that these are serious relations and that I’m happy, they will also like him and perceive him as a part of family.


    1. Taking it step by step definitely sounds like a good idea. I’m sure your parents’ main concern is that you’re truly happy with this man, and that he’s going to be supportive and loving.

      And congratulations to you on everything you’ve achieved so far in a couple of years — that sounds like you’ve done fantastically. :-)

  4. Very good post. I am someone who thrives on change, yet also have self-limiting beliefs that stop my from pursuing everything I think that I want.

    Have found that the advice in the first portion of the post is spot on – sometimes its best to wait before announcing your decision to the world. Because sometimes what we think we desire turns out to be nothing more than a passing fancy.

    It also helps with the disapproving ones in our life. When you know that what you desire is true and worth pursuing, the negative comments do not cut as deeply. Rather, they help you in refining your desire and quite possibly strengthening your resolve.

    Am in the middle stages of another life altering change for me and am very excited about it. So far I have experienced great support from those who I expect it from and no support from those that fear change.


    1. John, that’s a great point that negative comments can sometimes strengthen our resolve. I know I’ve felt motivated at times by thinking “Well, I’ll prove him/her wrong!” (Perhaps not the very best sort of motivation in the world, but it can definitely be a boost to deeper inner motivation…)

      Hope your current change goes really well, and that your supporters stick by you throughout. :-)

  5. This post perfectly on time!
    I’ve been experiencing a life-change situation and unfortunately some family members are not being as supportive as I expected them to be… In response to their reaction, I feel upset and anxious. Ali, this sentence of your comes handy: “You can’t live your life to please other people, so don’t be too anxious about negative reactions. You may well find that you’ve magnified the worries in your own head – some people will be more supportive and encouraging than you expect”.

    Thank you for the great words!

    1. Really glad this came at a good time for you, Gabrielle — and I hope that you can hang on to the support of those who react helpfully, and gently ignore the reactions of those others!

  6. Interestingly, this post sort of fits with the previous one on firing your friends. I think sometimes people have negative and unsupportive reactions because – like the commenter above said – they are then forced to examine their own lives. But I also know that many reactions like these stem from jealousy. Sometimes friends, family, etc don’t want to see someone take life by the horns and make a dramatic positive change because they are jealous of their ambition, motivation, commitment, or whatever. And they may also fear that the “new” you will leave them behind. Personally, I find that these negative and unsupportive comments make me want to succeed at something even more. Is it the most mature reaction? Perhaps not, but it is so frustrating and annoying to hear that negativity – or sometimes not so much negative as a tepid reaction rather than something positive and affirming. Ultimately, we each must do what we know is right for our self and not let outside forces prevent us from moving forward. Difficult, yes, but very necessary.

    1. I think there can be all sorts of reasons behind it — jealousy is certainly one. And some people are simply negative by nature. (Which is saddest for them, really.)

  7. In general, I’d say friends and family become threatened by our desires to grow. Who are we to improve? Or they fear for our safety or future. what if we fail at it? They want to warn us of impending danger, protect us from failures, or just keep us from “leaving them behind.”

    I’ve always felt it best to keep my goals to myself. The people who don’t understand the changes that are happening and don’t support you don’t have to be included in your “new self.” Others may just assume that’s the way you’ve always been even when you do change and grow. Also, sometimes a tremendous about of energy is lost by “talking your game” instead of doing it.

    Just dive in and swim … why muddy up the waters first?

    1. That’s a great point about keeping the energy on the *doing* rather than the talking about it. And you’re right … you don’t necessarily have to keep up with old friends if they’re dragging you down, or let new ones know every detail of your history.

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