We live in a rapidly changing world. But it’s not the change itself that will determine our future, it’s our response to the change.

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one that is most responsive to change.

For every event that takes place, whether it’s good for you or not, you can choose how to respond.

The 5 responses to change

The 5 responses to change is a great framework for moving towards more productive responses to change.

And it’s not just about productivity, you can also improve your well-being by recognizing your response, making sense of it, and moving towards a healthier approach.

The 5 responses to change are:

  1. Victim
  2. Critic
  3. Bystander
  4. Charger
  5. Navigator

These 5 responses can loosely be seen as a series of transitions (from top to bottom). Our first reaction to change is often a sense of loss for what is no longer true. Holding onto this sense of loss results in Victim and Critic responses.

As we accept the change, and step into the uncertainty, we may become a Bystander or Charger.

Finally, we embrace the change and become a Navigator.

Depending on our personality, our experiences, and whether we are leading the change or not, these transitions can be very quick, much slower, or we can get stuck completely.

You probably know people who are stuck in Victim or Critic responses (almost as a way of life!), it’s not a great place to be.

The Victim’s and Critic’s responses to change

Victims have a powerfully emotional response to change. Victims feel they are suffering as a result of the change. They feel helpless. They feel angry, or perhaps depressed.

At work they will disengage, perhaps take sick leave more often, or come to work and air their grievances to anyone who will listen. Victims can be a drag on productivity and harmful to the workplace culture.

If you feel yourself responding as a Victim, take the following steps:

  • Ask for help to understand why the change is taking place
  • Reach out to a trusted friend or advisor and share how you feel
  • Focus on what you can control
  • Take responsibility for what is happening in your team or function
  • Identify one thing you can do to move forward, then one more, then one more

Also, recognize that feeling like a Victim doesn’t have to last forever. You’re at the start of a transition to a ‘new normal’. It’s OK to feel a Victim, for a short while. Then you need to make a choice to move on.

Critics are similarly negative, but less emotional. They are more analytical and thoughtful. They’ll look for reasons why the change will not be a success. They’ll fail to see any positive outcomes from the change.

If you feel yourself responding as a Critic, take the following steps:

  • Ask more questions to understand why the change is taking place
  • Channel your analytical thinking to identify the positive aspects of the change
  • Explore the possibilities and opportunities that the change presents
  • Identify ways of improving the change, and actively engage with a positive mindset

The Bystander’s response to change

Bystanders are ‘on the fence’, they are unwilling to commit either way. They are reluctant to get involved and they are waiting for others to lead. Often, they will rationalize this behavior based on thoughts such as ‘I’m comfortable where I am’ and ‘it makes sense to wait and see’, etc.

If you feel yourself responding as a Bystander, take the following steps:

  • Explore how the change will impact you
  • Look for synergies between your team and other teams
  • Identify what role you can play in the change and take a step forward

The Charger’s response to change

The Charger response is a little more complex. There is positive intent, a desire to move forward to embrace the change. However, they ‘leap before they look’, which can have negative consequences. And in their desire to move forward they push others too hard and don’t listen. This can leave people behind, as Victims or Critics.

If you feel yourself responding as a Charger, take the following steps:

Don’t lose the enthusiasm for change, but work to take others with you on the journey! That is what will take you from a Charger to a Navigator.

How to become a Navigator of change

A Navigator ‘chooses a path’.

A Navigator of change chooses to take the right path, the response that will be most positive for themselves and those around them (regardless of whether the change itself is positive).

They explore the reasons for change with a positive outlook that views change as an opportunity.

The have a growth mindset which sees doing something for the first time as a chance to learn and develop.

They see change as an opportunity to demonstrate leadership.

If you feel yourself responding as a Navigator, take the following steps:

  • Continue to cultivate a sense of urgency
  • Create a vision of ‘a better future’ that will inspire others as well as yourself
  • Show those around you actions they need to take, towards that better future

Five more tips for navigating change.

Responses to change in summary: 3 key points

There are 3 key points that I want you to take from this article.

First, navigating change is mostly about your internal journey. It’s about the choices you make regarding how you respond to change, rather than the change itself. The House of Change is another great way of thinking about these responses as we navigate change.

Understanding the 5 responses to change: Victim, Critic, Bystander, Charger and Navigator helps us make sense of our responses and how to move forwards towards being a ‘Navigator’.

Finally, if you feel you are already a Navigator, challenge yourself to reach out and do more to support others too. Make the choice to lead others through change.

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