How to cope with change

Maria Vakola and colleagues at Athens University asked 137 Greek professionals, all of whom had experienced major organisational changes at work, to fill out questionnaires measuring personality traits, emotional intelligence and attitudes to change. Using this data they created a profile of an employee who accepts change well. 

They found the Big Five personality traits are important – extroversion, conscientiousness, a lack of neuroticism and, most particularly, agreeableness and openness to new experiences. Emotional Intelligence (EI), competency in managing yourself and your relationships with others, also matters – particularly optimism, self-efficacy, and emotional control.

Vakola points out that whereas EI is a quality that can improve with training and effort, personality traits – particularly the Big Five – have a substantial genetic basis and therefore tend to be stable across the lifespan. 

However, a very recent study by Eileen Graham and colleagues at Northwestern University offers convincing evidence that the Big Five traits are more open to change than had been previously supposed. 

Taken together, these findings suggest you can improve your ability to cope with the changes you’ll face during this exceptionally challenging time. Here are four tips to help you:

  1. Journal it: Set aside five minutes each evening. Write down three things you did well that day, however small; three things you’re grateful for; and one behaviour you’ll try the next day that will take you just beyond your comfort zone. This short exercise will boost self-efficacy, conscientiousness, optimism/wellbeing, extroversion and openness to new experiences.
  2. Listen well: When someone wants to tell you something or asks your opinion, put down other activities and listen fully. This will develop empathy and boost agreeableness.
  3. Put judging on pause: Take five minutes twice or ten minutes once each day and simply breathe slowly and evenly through your nose. Do this while observing your surroundings carefully and without passing judgment. Neuroticism/anxiety will decrease and you’ll enjoy better emotional control.
  4. Ensure continuity: Spend at least ten minutes every day pursuing an activity you discovered and enjoyed during lockdown – learning a new language, growing herbs, contacting a long-time friend who now lives far away. This provides some continuity of routine and will help you feel safer and more in control, whatever restrictions you face. 

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