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5 ways to take control in times of change

Tips about managing change


Explore ways to take control in times of change.


Every day there will be things we come across that are ‘givens’. These are the things that are outside of our control. The things we can’t change.

This could be, the weather, getting stuck in a traffic jam or a delayed train. These givens present you with a choice. And, the choice is, how you react to and deal with them. Do you get wound up and angry? Or do you remain calm and recognise there’s nothing you can do about the situation, acknowledging that it’s outside of your control.

Neurologist and psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl in his book ‘Man’s search for meaning' says:


“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”


If the stimulus is something that is a given, you then have the choice of how you react. That is something that is completely within your control.

If you think about this in relation to organisational change there will be some things that are givens. The things that you’ve no control over. And like the everyday events that are givens, you have the choice as to how you react.


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Here are five ways to help you deal with the givens of change;


1. Recognise the givens

A great starting point is to take some time to think about and work out the givens. In the change that is happening, what concrete decisions have been made or actions implemented that can’t now be changed? Decisions will have been made at an organisational level that impact throughout the business. You perhaps weren’t involved in or consulted about these decisions and that is also a given.

Make sure you do a reality check. Check that they’re givens. That they’re truly outside of your control. Or is it that you like to have something to complain about?  Is complaining about something easier than making the effort to take action?


2. Notice your thinking

If you accept that you can’t change the givens, what about adjusting your approach to how you think about the situation? Examine what you’re thinking about some or all of the givens of the change. What’s going through your mind? Is your thinking helpful or hindering? Is it helping you to accept that you can do little about the givens. Or is it hindering you, as you blame others or complain about the situation. Hindering thinking if just left to fester will lead to negative emotions. So, the question is, would you rather feel good or feel not so good?  

It’s natural to have hindering thinking, but it's then where you choose to take it. You can leave it as hindering thinking, perhaps not helping you to feel in a good place about the change. Or you can choose to think in a more helpful way.

  • What could you possibly say to yourself about the givens that might be more helpful?
  • What could you possibly ask yourself that might help you to view the givens in a more helpful way?


"When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” - Viktor Frankl


3. Focus your energy

In his book the 7 habits of highly effective peopleStephen Covey explains the circle of concern and the circle of influence. The circle of concern contains all the things on your radar that trouble you or that you have on your mind. This can be anything from global warming, to how your children are getting on at school. At times of change some of your concerns will be about the change and the things that are happening. And, some of the things within your circle of concern will be the givens. Within the circle of concern there’s your circle of influence. And this circle contains the things you can control or influence. So, this could be how the changes are implemented within your team or the questions you ask about the change.

A good question to ask yourself is, "What’s the thing you have most control over?" And, the answer is, yourself. What you choose to think, what you choose to do and how you choose to react. You have full control over where you focus your energy. Do you want to give energy to the things you can influence and control? Or do you want to waste your time thinking about and working on the things you can’t change. By concentrating on where you can have impact, you can extend your circle of influence. Take the time away from the investment in your circle of concerns and the givens. Instead, invest your energy on where you can have a positive effect and make a contribution.


“Be a light, not a judge, be a model not a critic. Little by little, your circle of influence will explode and you will avoid the emotional metastasizing cancers of complaining, critizing, competing, comparing and cynicism, all which reflect victimization, all of which are the opposite of being proactive." - Stephen Covey 


4. Help others with their thinking

Once you’ve recognised the givens and worked out what you can and can’t influence, you can help others to do the same. Asking questions is extremely effective to help others with their thinking. Their brains will automatically start working on the answers. You could ask, “What can we do about that?” or “What choices do we have?” If the answer is ‘nothing’, it focuses their mind on the fact that this is a given. This can then lead to a conversation about this and where best to devote time and energy.

Or you could ask, “What could we possibly influence?” or “How might we possibly implement this in the team?” to open minds about the things within the circle of influence. Focusing on what can be done will give a sense of control. This will help to counteract any feelings of powerlessness caused by the change.

  • For more "Ways of engaging others in accelerating results" take a look at our previous article here.

At Go MAD Thinking we talk about the power of, ‘Asking the right question, at the right time to the right person.’ And, how this can help people move forward with their thinking. This also applies to you. You can ask yourself questions. So, possible questions for you to think about could be:

  • Who could you possibly help to deal with this change?
  • What is the right question to ask them right now?


5. Let go and move on 

For change to be successful, once the givens are identified and acknowledged, the next stage is to move on. A step towards this will be to define goals about the things you influence. This will focus your thinking on the areas where you can make a difference. Involve others in defining these goals. Continue to have conversations that help to clarify what is in the circle of concern and what is in the circle of influence.

Catch yourself thinking. Are you thinking about the givens and dwelling on things that can’t be influenced? Or are you taking control and thinking about how to move forward?

Catch others thinking. What are they talking about? The things they have control over or the things they haven’t. What might be the right question to ask them to help them move forward.


These 5 tips for dealing with the givens work towards building an understanding of key areas to consider in managing change.

This can be in managing your own reactions to change or dealing with the reactions of others. Focusing on the areas where differences can be made is much more satisfying and rewarding than expending time and energy on things outside of your control.

If you accept that the most important thing you have control over is your thinking and reactions, change won’t be the challenge it can sometimes be made out to be.


Here are 3 practical things you can do straightaway to help you with your thinking about the things you can’t change;

  • Think about a change you are currently involved in or a change you know is coming up.
  • Make a list of the ‘given’ elements of this change. What are the things you can’t control or influence?
  • Decide to let go of the givens and to focus on the things you can control and influence. What is the right question to ask yourself?


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