Change in Charge

The Cat and I write to you today from, as Dorothy Sayers puts it, “an undisclosed location” as our apartment floors are being replaced and we have temporarily moved out.

She was particularly good on the way to the hotel, and has been suspiciously well-behaved, but I think it’s terror more than anything. If I leave anything from home – my laptop cover, a t-shirt – out on the bed or a chair, that’s where she wants to lie. And when my husband (her preferred person) left for work this morning, she vanished. The room is tiny – well, you can walk around the bed, so palatial by New York hotel standards – and she couldn’t crawl under any of the furniture. At first I was amused, then curious, then after frantically searching for ten minutes and shaking the kitty treats without response, worried. Did she sneak out unseen when my husband left for work? I opened the door, but I didn’t see her in the hall. Eventually I found her under the drape of the comforter, pressed up against the base of the bed. Now she’s silent, watching me and following me around the tiny room if I get up for even a moment.

An extreme reaction to change. But I ask if you ever do the same, yourself?

  • Maybe when change happens around you, you say, “I’ll just keep my head down and keep working until it’s over.” Tried it. Sounds like it should work, but it doesn’t.
  • Maybe when have an opportunity to speak up, you say, “There are a lot of loud voices in the room. I’ll wait until there’s a pause in the discussion and speak up then.” Yeah, that doesn’t work either. Either the right moment doesn’t come or the person who is torturing everyone singles you out and accuses you of not participating.
  • Maybe when you hear about change, you say, “I’ll just keep smiling and looking for the positive. I’ve weathered a lot of storms and karma eventually catches up.” Yes, and will you still be there when it does? Do you want to be?

Sometimes the thing that we don’t like about change is the lack of control that we have over it. While the movers were packing up yesterday, I found myself experiencing an anxiety that former colleagues would recognize as me “being annoying when we’re trying to set up for the conference” and laughed at myself. I wanted to organize the movers, tell them how to do their jobs – the handled me but they could have stolen an idea from one smart cookie who gave me assignments over there, usually in the other room, maybe at the other end of the hotel facility, mainly away from her until she had everything under control to a degree that I could calm down. That’s the way I’ve been dealing with change – take charge and manage the hell out of minor details to offset the anxiety produced by my lack of control over the major details. My husband doesn’t like it either, he made clear yesterday.

However, it’s a technique you can use to your advantage. When we rolled out a new computer system (hardware, software, the works) to stores that were still on DOS, I put together a guide on “what to expect” for the store managers to help them understand what kinds of inconvenience they could expect and when, and how to deal with it. A few pages alerted them to the signs and symptoms of employees who were going to fight the change, and how to help those employees. One recommendation was to put them in charge of the change because, when you’re in charge, you have a vested interest in the project going well, but it also forces you to be in the change (vs. avoiding it), and it gives you some modicum of control over the change, alleviating your anxiety about change. It worked so well that we used it again for other rollouts.

The Cat doesn’t have a choice – she has very little control over the changes affecting her right now and she doesn’t like them. And I can’t put her in charge of anything because, well, she is a cat, and cats are always in charge anyway.

Sorry, bud, I don’t like these changes either. But all we can do until we’re home again is keep our heads down and keep working. I mean, micromanage the people in charge. I mean keep smiling and wait. I mean…

All we can do is sit with our discomfort and wait for it to go away.


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