My two year old loves a routine. He also loves going swimming so when an accident on the main road to the pool meant that we had to turn back, we knew we were in trouble. He’s the kind of boy that ticks off the landmarks in his head as we travel so he immediately knows something is up. His first reaction is to start shouting “swimming!” while frantically signing “where?” The confusion turns to anger which quickly turns into a full on meltdown when he realises that this isn’t just a detour and he won’t be going swimming today.
It turns out that not even the teacher could make it to the pool and that an alternative lesson is planned at the weekend. We explain this to him and despite an attempted negotiation on the timing (“Mama, Dada, swim, now”), he understands and calms down.
We’re out of the danger zone for now but the alternative lesson is at a different time, at a different place and with a different teacher. This is a child who raises an objection when you wear a different pair of shoes than usual so he’s going to notice and he’s not going to be happy!
On the day we talk him through what’s going to happen and how interesting it will be to see a new place and a new teacher. As we get into the pool we point out the weird little ramp he has to walk up first, the shiny metal bars he can touch and the odd toy that the other pool doesn’t have. He begins to warm to the situation and eventually has a really good lesson.
The cycle of emotions he went through are a perfectly natural reaction to change:
Denial – SWIMMING WHERE?!?!
Resistance – MAMA NO!!!!!
Exploration – Started to find positives from the change – the bars, new toys.
Commitment – Acceptance of new location and teacher and actually enjoying the lesson.
Toddlers are not in control of their emotions so it’s very apparent what they are feeling at any given time. The reaction to the change is right in your face (quite often literally!) so we didn’t have to consciously think of the above stages to be able to guide him through it.
When delivering change in the workplace it’s not as obvious. It’s easy to forget that even the smallest changes can affect people. Even when it is considered, just because people aren’t showing it, doesn’t mean they aren’t feeling it. As change professionals we have models and methods to help with this but it needs to be a conscious decision to use them.
We could have handled this differently. Not told him anything, strapped him into his car seat and dealt with the screaming. With enough authority you could do the equivalent in the workplace. Mandate the change and tell people to get on with it. While the reaction probably won’t be as noisy, the consequences will be far worse and you’d get a much better outcome by considering the emotions involved and supporting the people throughout the change.