Facing Change at Work? First, Take a Deep Breath

  I was moderating a panel discussion at a Fortune 500 company, and the topic was change. A challenging question was thrown to a Senior VP panelist, “What do you do when you have to communicate and execute organizational change that you don’t believe in?” She had a profound answer:

“I do what I always do when I hear about a big change – First, I take a deep breath.”

There was palpable change in the audience on hearing these words. It’s like we all paused and took a collective deep breath. There was laughter, and a sense of relaxation.

Hearing about change can be a shock. If we’re not careful, we can quickly become flooded by fear. In that state, we may become paralyzed and can do nothing, or we may exhibit a negative reaction. It’s the classic “flight or fight” response as we focus on survival.

We are conditioned to want to jump into action when we face a challenge. Yet we rarely take the best actions when we’re in that reactive mode. It’s usually wiser to wait until the shock wears off and we’ve stepped back from the situation.

Taking a deep breath provides a space to just relax, think and absorb the new information. It also reminds us that whatever we do, whatever happens won’t be the end of the world. It helps put everything in perspective and relaxes us so that we can see more clearly.

“First, take a deep breath” is a great approach to your whole life, not just dealing with organizational change. Whenever something happens in your life that triggers a stress response, you’ll be more effective if you can stay calm, cool and collected. Remember, whatever is going to happen will happen, and it won’t be the end of the world.

Deep breathing has profound and instantaneous benefits. Physically, deep breathing relaxes our muscles, lowers our blood pressure, massages our organs and helps with digestion. Emotionally, deep breathing calms our nerves and restores a sense of peace. Mentally, breathing brings clarity to our thinking and gives us access to our creative problem solving skills.

If you take the extra step of consciously practicing deep breathing, even just for a few minutes each day, you’ll be much better prepared to apply this technique when you’re faced with a big change or stressor, whether at work or anywhere else in your life.

P.S. What was the VP’s next move when executing a change she didn’t completely believe in? She said that she finds the parts of the change she CAN believe in, and begins by building on that.

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