Responding to Change

by Lynn Grodzki, LCSW, MCC

Email Newsletter, September 2011


I have been writing this monthly email newsletter for almost fifteen years. In the spirit of the remembrance this month, I decided to look through my files for what I wrote about ten years ago, in 2001.

I found a draft of that old newsletter whose topic was Disruption and Change, sent out the first of September 2001.  Of course I didn’t know what the country would face ten days later; but the topic is still a valid one, as the degree of complication in our world gets ever more intense.

As master therapist Steve Gilligan says, “One thing you can count on is that life keeps coming at you. The next event is already in the mail.”

The events that disrupt our lives and our work are inevitable, but the question remains the same: What is our best response to disruptive change?

Here are 3 strategies I like:

1)    Lean Forward

I learned one important way to respond to change from my few, pathetic attempts at skiing. The hardest aspect of skiing for me is posture: You need to lean forward into your skis. That means slanting your body over your skis, so you are looking down the hill.

I have had several instructors explain this leaning forward dynamic. Leaning forward helps you maneuver your skis. Leaning forward creates momentum, and actually gives you control by putting more weight on the front of the ski. Leaning forward makes the skis easier to turn and more responsive at high speeds and allows the wind to flow over your body at high speeds.

I get it, I just don’t like it. To balance my innate fear of heights and speed, I like to lean back, waaaay back.

Last time I went skiing, I was perched on a steep hill and I was nervous. I had a brilliant plan. If I traversed the hill, only going side to side, it would still count as skiing and I would feel safe. I began to ski this way. But a friend, a good skier, was watching me. She stopped a bit above me on the hill and watched me for 5 minutes, 10 minutes, finally 20 minutes. (I was barely advancing but getting pretty good at going back and forth, back and forth.) Finally she swished up next to me on her skis and said, kindly but firmly, Lynn, the whole point of skiing is to get down the hill.    

When I meet with therapists, coaches, consultants, in small business today, many of whom are frightened about changes that are affecting their practices, they look just like me on skis. Tense, hesitant, of two minds about what steps to take with lots of back and forth reasoning. They are working against the natural momentum of the change.

Like a ski instructor, I say: “Nothing is wrong, this is how it feels in today’s economy. This is how uncertain markets react, up and down – we are just in a downturn. It’s safe to try some new strategies. Try this, lean forward, let your practice shift and it will gain energy as you move forward.”

I tell them that I know leaning forward into the direction of change may feel unfamiliar and downright scary. But in business (and in skiing) it is the only way to advance. And it’s easier when someone reminds you, from time to time, which way you are supposed to be heading.

2)    Accept What Is True

Responding to change starts with our ability to notice that something is different. We often need a wake-up call to take action, also known as the “attention to intention.”

My good friend called me with a common concern. “I am gaining weight,” she moaned. “I work out the same as before, I eat the same as before, but this summer I am up 5 lbs.” We commiserated about aging, slowing metabolism, the unfairness of it all. But she has a clear choice: adapt to her new, older body and slower metabolism, or accept a little extra weight.

We want things to work the way they used to, and they don’t. It’s similar in a small business. We get attached to an old business model that we liked, one that used to work fine, but now, in a changing market, that old model is no longer resilient.

As a business coach, I try to help my clients see what is true for today and likely for the future. Like my friend tracking her weight, I ask them to start by tracking their own practices for data: What is not working well? What is OK? Where do new clients come from now? How long do they stay? Who is in your professional community—who are you talking with each week, each month? Do they refer? If not, why not? How satisfied are clients with your services? How do you know?

We look at additional strategies to attract clients, better ways to set fees or manage schedules, and trends that can bring new opportunities. When we can see the situation and accept it without judgment or blame, it’s so much easier to be strategic about the future.

3)    Respect the Little Things

I don’t listen to a lot of rap music, but one song I like is by T.I. The chorus (cleaned up of profanity) goes: Big things poppin’, little things stoppin’. The lyrics mean that even though the opportunity for growth is right in front of us, small points of resistance can prevent us from moving forward.

As I explored in my newest book, Crisis-Proof Your Practice, when markets change, business opportunities emerge: new clients, ideas, services, methods, structure — big things poppin! If you can’t see these or take advantage of them, you will most likely be dealing with something small but potent that needs to be addressed fast — little things stoppin.

Here is an example from the world of private practice:

After tracking her practice data, Susan, a Canadian psychotherapist, found that she was getting a fair number of calls from new clients who found her on the Internet. But few of these calls converted to actual clients. Her goal was to create a better website that would reflect her services and in doing so, attract the right kind of clients who would follow up and actually book sessions.

She wrote her new website text, found a website designer and with his help, developed a good design. She was ready to launch the site, but then things ground to a halt.

By the time she called me for help, she had been stuck in this place of inaction for six months. We talked at some length to explore any and all concerns that the launch might be eliciting. She got many interesting insights from our coaching calls, and made plans to launch, but ultimately, did nothing. It confused her (and me.) She stayed stuck, with no change in her behavior. I keep dropping the ball, she would say, sadly.

Shift Happens

One day she came to her coaching call quite excited. “I figured it out, Lynn,” she said. “It’s funny, because it was a small thing, something I overlooked, but it acted as a very powerful brake.

“You know how at the top of the site, under my name, I put my professional degree and then the words “Behavioral Psychologist?

I said I remembered. “Well, I realized that I don’t see myself that way anymore. I don’t like the word Behavioral. It’s wrong and not reflective of the way I work now. It’s been right for me for my previous career, but sends the wrong message to clients. I took it away and just left the word Psychologist and all the sudden, I couldn’t wait to launch. It’s up, take a look!”

We looked at her wonderful, new site and laughed together about the unconscious communication between her  behavior (dropping the ball) and the small necessary step to drop the word Behavioral.

Sometimes we have to get everything aligned, big and small, conscious and un, in order to move forward. So although we don’t want to sweat the small things, those things can be powerful and matter in the end.

Need some help for yourself and your practice? Let’s see if a first step might be individual coaching. To get started click here.