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Last minute changes: How to avoid being a mood hoover

by Blaise Palmer

Vaccum cleaner
We’ve all been there, it’s the final week of the project, the finish line is in sight, you’re about to go meet your mates in the pub when *ping* – an email comes through that changes everything…

Here is when you choose your own adventure. What do you do next?

Do you:

A: Go full Dr. Zoidberg about it: running around with your claws flailing in the air, spraying your poisonous ink everywhere and ranting incoherently. 


B: Be the Obama in the room that sees opportunity in the change. That understands we’re all in it together (and other inspirational words).

If you chose B you can skip this next bit. I’m talking to all you As out there...

I’m not blaming you for that reaction. To a certain extent it’s evolution’s fault for conditioning us to be afraid of change. Our internal predispositions teach us to resist change and to try to feel like we’re always in control. 

This is something that people much smarter than me have been teaching us for thousands of years. From Buddha and his teachings of impermanence, to the pontifications of Socrates or today’s ‘inspirational’ Facebook quotes. Change is a fact of life, but it could be you that’s turning it from a mild inconvenience into a nightmare with your doomsday attitude.

Okay, maybe I'm being a bit dramatic, but in my years working in agency environments, it’s something that I've seen a lot of and I'm convinced people don’t realise the impact their stress levels can have on others. But for my own sanity I’ve learned to manage it, write that change request and try to avoid eye rolling as much as possible. Sure, it can be annoying, but people who are rigid, inflexible and incapable of just rolling with it are more disruptive to the team. You’ll notice that the sooner you become okay with change, the less stressful work becomes, and the more enjoyable you’ll be to work with.

So your project has had a hiccup. Instead of getting yourself in a flap, what should you do?

  1. Keep those negative thoughts to yourself. What you say next can suck up the energy in the room faster than Nickelback
  2. Take a deep breath and read that email again… does it really change everything? Is it really that bad? I’m guessing no
  3. Check what the wider reasoning behind the change might be. Don’t just focus on what it means for you
  4. Work with your teammates and focus on the solution. I’m going deep here, but Socrates said “The secret of change is to focus all your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new."
  5. Be systematic and pragmatic in understanding what the impact of the change is for you. What do you need to do to get the project back on track? List those things and do them. It is never as bad or hard as it initially seems
  6. Put it in perspective. There are much worse things happening in the world. Climate change is accelerating, there is a Cheezel leading the ‘free world’ and people can’t buy houses because of avocados

Coping with change isn't that hard. You can't change how your brain works but you can retrain it. Your brain likes information it knows and understands, and doesn't like surprises. If your brain experiences enough change it'll allow you to operate with the understanding that change is something you can survive and thrive on. You won't fear it so much because the information stored in your head provides evidence that fear is unnecessary. Of course, getting to this point is easier said than done.

To all you Bs out there. Don’t just get frustrated with your Dr. Zoidberg-esk colleagues ­– there might be something that they know that you don’t. Take time to understand where they're coming from, be positive and help bring them round.

So remember don’t be a mood hoover on your next project. Change is often inevitable but how you handle it is a personal choice.

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