Research Paper By Jacqueline Bassett
(Life Coach, UNITED STATES)
It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the most responsive to change. Charles Darwin
Life happens. Change is constant and unavoidable. In and of itself, change is neither good nor bad. It’s simply life. How one handles change is the critical element that often determines one’s life. Change can be small, such as the closing of a favorite store; or devastating, such as the death of a loved one, divorce, job loss, or serious health issues; or positive, such as a new job or a new spouse. Change can be self-initiated, such as weight loss, moving to a new city, or pregnancy.
While change comes in many forms and degrees of personal and professional significance, dealing with change and transitioning through to the “other side” can be difficult; much like crossing an unknown river where the far shore is vaguely visible.
People often seek guidance in matters of law, business, health, investments, real estate—there are experts in every field in this complex and ever-changing world. When it comes to dealing with change, many individuals cross that river alone in the fog of sudden change and uncertainty, reaching out for guidance only when the boat capsizes, they are drowning, or the prospect of reaching the far shore becomes insurmountable.
Professional coaching brings guidance, support, a trained and fresh set of eyes and ears, objectivity, even a map and a new set of paddles to the crossing. While some may deal with change better than others, in all cases the assistance of a professional coach makes the transition more assured, and even helps prepare the individual for future crossings. This paper focuses on the compounding benefits of professional coaching in times of change.
The Process and Phases of Change
It’s not so much that we are afraid of change or so in love with the old ways, but it’s that place in between that we fear. It’s like being between trapezes. Marilyn Ferguson
Psychologist William Bridges studied individuals progressing through change, and developed his Three-Phase Transition Model. Bridges’ model begins with “Endings,” followed by the “Neutral Zone” (the often confusing in-between state where people are no longer who they used to be and have yet to determine where they are going and whom they are becoming), and concluding with “New Beginnings” after the individual has let go of the past, has successfully traversed all of the phases of change, and looking toward a new beginning.
Change is counterintuitive, beginning with an ending focused on the past and old ways of doing things, and ending with a new beginning that is future-focused. Transition through the phases is not linear but often circular and messy with stops and starts and the potential to get stuck, particularly during the Resistance phase—the most treacherous phase. However, the process of change is relatively predictable through four quadrants as outlined in the model below.
It isn’t the changes that do you in, it’s the transitions. Change is situational, transition is the psychological process people go through to come to terms with the new situation. Change is external, transition is internal. William Bridges
Change is often from an external “Environment” source. The initial phase is Denial—looking outside at what is happening, struggling with the end of something we might be comfortable with, find safety in, or even feel that we control, even if that something is ultimately unhealthy. Denial is often accompanied by the mixed emotions of anxiety and fear coupled with happiness that finally something will change.
As reality sets in, the individual internalizes the change and what it means personally. Resistance is the initiation of the transitional phase, also known as the neutral zone—the uncomfortable stage in between. There likely will be strong feelings of frustration, anger, fear, disillusionment that the task is overwhelming and not worth it, concerns about the impact this may have on others, and self-doubt about being able to make change, leading to possible depression and hostility. Resistance is the toughest phase, and where coaching is needed most. Resistance is not bad, but it must be balanced with progress:
- Everyone experiences resistance at some point—it only becomes unhealthy when it blocks forward progress.
- Resistance is a reliable barometer to measure the impacts of change.
- Resistance serves as a valuable protective device against hasty or dangerous decisions.
- People don’t resist change; they resist the losses that often come with spending time in transition.
Transitioning through resistance, the individual moves into Exploration. Here the individual wants to make change work on their terms but with no clear answers; they start to become hopeful with a sense of making progress; possible solutions arise—perhaps a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. Finally, the individual begins to re-externalize the realities of change, moving toward Commitment, focused on and excited about the future and working to accomplish the change vision. Self-confidence increases, accentuated by acceptance, a new vision of the future, and the excitement of moving forward toward a new beginning.
The four phases are sequential with each building on the work of the prior. During each phase, the person does important work that allows them to complete the entire process of change. People work through the phases at different speeds. To obtain full commitment, all four phases must be completed. Without professional guidance, individuals may not recognize the phases and their associative traits and emotions. Also, people may have a tendency to skip or become stuck in a phase. Skipping phases does not allow the person to fully recover and deal with all of the elements of change; getting stuck can doom the individual by stifling forward progress.
How Coaching Helps
Professional coaches provide an ongoing partnership designed to help clients produce fulfilling results in their personal and professional lives. The International Coach Federation
The essence of coaching is creating a safe place for change with an accountability partner. It is a partnership formed to help people get from where they are to where they want to be. Coaching is built upon listening, hearing, empowerment, support, commitment, caring, and action. To help people move through the transition effectively, the coach needs to understand critical elements such the individual’s perception of the past, present, and future, their past experience of change and how it impacted them, how they coped, and what they may lose as part of the change and what will they gain.
A coach is there to develop self-awareness and has many tools that can be used to create forward movement. Much of coaching is asking pointed questions (initially and throughout the process). These include self-awareness questions such as:
- What significant changes are you presently facing?
- How will these changes impact you and the world around you?
- What will you need to let go of to make these changes happen?
- What will you potentially lose or gain?
- What specific emotions are you experiencing as a result of the changes?
- What thoughts have you been having about the changes?
- What have you been saying to others about the changes?
- How has your behavior changed?