When we are in the middle of transition or, the neutral zone as William Bridge’s calls it, we are often in the midst of an uncertain and ambiguous present. We may feel disoriented as the old and familiar has completed yet what’s to come isn’t yet clear. This often occurs whenannouncements of organizational restructuring are made. The organization sets a new vision or direction and a timeline of changes is described. This often involves people’s job changing, perhaps even an interview process to apply for a new job, and employees have many questions and concerns.
“Will I be successful in this new role?”
“How will my performance be measured?”
“How will I know if I’m successful or failing?”
“Will I get along with my new boss?”
“What if I make a mistake? Will it be held against me?”
As Bridge’s teaches us, this period of worry and concern is to be expected. As action-oriented “doers”, leaders often describe this interim step in change as the most difficult to experience for themselves and to also help others move through. We want to “get on with it”, “not be so emotional” and “be sold” on what’s coming. So how do we keep ourselves and our teams moving through the stages of transitions with grace and ease?
Learning how to thrive during the neutral zone of transition is key to a successful new beginning.
- Close out any unfinished business.
In organizational life, we tend to jump right from the old to the new. While on the surface this appears to work, over time we may begin to notice a drain of energy, a lethargy, or lack of engagement in ourselves or our teams. When we have not fully allowed ourselves and our teams the time required to have a sufficient ending, we can carry unconscious grief that blocks our ability to embrace the new. So then, how do we do close out unfinished business?
One of the ways I’ve found to come to closure with something that’s ended is to celebrate what’s ending. Does this seem paradoxical? Think about it.When we celebrate birthdays or anniversaries we’re looking at both what has passed and have very little idea of what the future carries. We tell stories, share funny and warm recollections, toast to successes, remember milestone, and acknowledge disappointments. We put that situation “into a context” as a part of our journey. We remember what it was like when we started out and notice how far we’ve come.
This type of celebration can also work well in organizational transition. As leaders bring their teams together, they can celebrate and acknowledge what “used to be” with their teams and encourage team members to also allow themselves some private time to do the same.
- Stay in the present moment.
It’s easy to become anxious during the Neutral Zone. We’re wondering if we’ll have a job, and if so, what will that job be. Our mind begins jump to all the “what ifs” and worries. Staying in the present moment is the best way to navigate this ambiguity. What’s coming up right here and now that we can address, respond to, or impact.
I work with many of my clients on mindfulness practices to support them staying in the present. Take a “mindful minute” to notice your breath and how you feel in your body. You can do this anywhere and I suggest doing this a couple of times during the day at work. Set a timer on your cell phone for the number of minutes you want to spend so you want be distracted by worrying about time.
Begin by sitting comfortably, feeling your feet on the floor, your bum and back supported by the chair. Notice how your bones hold you up and that no effort is required. Soften into this position. Now simply notice the way your breath feels around your nostrils through each inhalation and exhalation until your timer goes off. Now notice again, how does your body feel?
There are many ways to practice staying in the present – mindfulness, meditation, and yoga are among them. If you don’t have a practice where you’re building the capability of staying present, there are many teachers and coaches available to support you to learn this.
- Take care of your body.
Taking care of our physical body during the Neutral Zone is another key to building resilience and yet can be an area that suffers greatly.
A new book by Tom Rath that’s about to be released is called “Eat, Sleep, Move”. In it, Rath talks about how he learned to manage a chronic disease through nutrition, proper sleep, and movement. Think about it. Where do you tend to go during times of stress? Does your diet suffer? Are you an emotional eater or do you stop eating depriving your body of much needed nutrition? Do you develop insomnia and find yourself waking up in the middle of the night worrying about the future? Do you quit your exercise routine or become sedentary?
Once you notice your tendency during the Neutral Zone, you can build a response plan.
- Stay open to possibilities.
The Neutral Zone is also a time of reorientation. It is during this phase of transition that new possibilities begin to emerge. If we’ve done our work to close with the past, are building our muscle for staying present, and are taking care of our bodies – we begin to not only notice new possibilities – we begin to feel energy for something new and different.
The cautionary here is not to jump too quickly. I encourage you to reflect on the new possibilities, to consider them from all perspectives and with an open mind, and to notice if this change in what was might create for you “a road less travelled”.
- Get support.
We all go through many transitions in our lives and careers. Each is different. Each has something new to offer us. And they can be hard. The loss can seem overwhelming and the uncertainty of the future can be daunting.
Support during times of transition help us to not feel so alone, it normalizes our experience, and if you work with a professional therapist or coach, they will be able to help you navigate your own unique journey. I have worked with many clients where an organizational restructuring has precipitated launching a new venture, making a geographical move, starting a family, or beginning a long-held new dream.
Would you like more tips and resources for managing stress during times of change. Join my new, FREE, online course "10 Days to Relieve Stress and Anxiety". Learn more here.
Terri Altschul, PCC
Terri is an Integral Coach, facilitator, writer, wife, mom, talent development consultant, continuous learner, and founder of WomenConnected.net. She is passionate about human potential and demonstrates her love and commitment to the development and empowerment of others both personally and professionally.
At WomenConnected.net we stand for the unique qualities and strengths of women. We are teaching a new paradigm for women - that women can learn how to live in a new way with each other. This new way of being encourages women to collaborate rather than compete, to trust rather than mistrust, to value each other as much as they value being with a man and to honor and value themselves. We do this through Women Connected Circles, Releasing the Need to Please, and a range of private coaching programs.
Contact Terri: womenconnected.net and firstname.lastname@example.org