The Change Game

How to Win in These Fast-Changing Times
Change has a bad reputation in our society. But it isn’t all bad-not by any means. In fact, change is necessary in life-to keep us moving…to keep us interested…to keep us growing.

Imagine life without change. It would be static…boring…and dull. When people feel stuck and frustrated, it is often their fear of change that is causing the problem.

When that fear is too strong-as it is in the workplace today-people are afraid to change. That is because they are under great stress and feel out of control.


There are five major fears of change. I rank these according to what clients and audiences have told me. Usually people who fear change experience at least one of the following.

1. Fear of the Unknown. Why do men or women fear committing to learning new communication skills in a romantic relationship? Why does taking a new job seem SO scary? We are most at ease when we are completely familiar with our surroundings and sure of what the future holds for us. As a result, fear of the unknown can paralyze us.

2. Fear of Failure. Typical questions you might ask yourself are, What IF after I try it, it doesn’t work out and I look foolish? Won’t I be a laughingstock? People expect to get everything right the first time, instead of taking their time to work things out and getting them right at some time.

3. Fear of Commitment. This fear is why people don’t set firm goals or accomplish what they set out to do. They are afraid to focus on what they want out of life. The excuse they use is that they will be trapped. Instead, people should be honest with themselves and commit to a few simple and heartfelt goals-what they really dream of doing. The fear of commitment will cut you off at the knees just when you begin to move ahead quickly.

4. Fear of Disapproval. Some might call this the fear of rejection. Typical question: What if I commit myself to my goals and people disapprove or push me away?
Often when people make positive changes, their friends, family and business associates might resist the change, and say I liked you better the way you were. I call these changeback pressures.

Examples: You might lose weight and get the cold shoulder from your spouse or friends. Or you might stop drinking and a frustrated mate might say I liked you better when you were drinking. If you change, somebody will likely disapprove. Usually several people in your social network feel this way. You will learn very quickly who your false friends are and who is truly on the side of your self-esteem.

5. Fear of Success. Typical questions: If you’re successful, are people going to dislike you? Think you’re stuck-up? We are all incredibly afraid of appearing selfish and egotistical to others. When people get through the changes and are feeling good, they sometimes feel guilty for feeling good. People often trace this guilt back to being taught that they are selfish and egotistical for taking care of themselves.


Another paradox of change is that frequently we feel we don’t have control over what we should change and, therefore, we don’t change. There are five challenging and difficult stages we must go through before we embrace any change.

1. Crisis. You feel you’ve got to change or else. You’re backed into a corner. It may be a business crisis…or a personal crisis. This sense of crisis-usually very emotional-is a wake-up call, telling you that you are confronting a need for change.

2. Hard Work. This is the stage that most people enjoy because they have a change plan. Often this involves hard mental work. You may take classes, read books, network with business contacts, seek counseling or coaching meetings, etc. There’s a sense of creative control of emotions in this stage-you’re working hard trying to figure out the solution to the crisis.

3. Tough Decision. Then you reach the point where you must make a difficult decision.

Examples: You decide to leave your job…or you’re thinking of opening a new business venture and you decide to do it. This stage isn’t easy, but it’s a relief. You feel glad that you’re making a commitment. Because you’re choosing a direction, there’s a sense that just making the commitment will free you. So there’s usually a feeling of optimism at this stage.

4. Unexpected Pain. At this stage you are doing the right things but getting the wrong results. You are tempted to give up on your goal-and unfortunately a lot of people do-because you’re feeling awful about your supposed failings. During this stage, people frequently don’t realize that they’ve made positive changes, so they stop changing.

Thousands of times, people quit when success is right around the corner. It may take every courageous bone in your body to drag yourself forward. But it’s a shame that after all the hard work in the first three stages, the unexpected setback causes us to quit if we permit it to. We give up and don’t finish the change to receive the prize of satisfaction.

Then the resentment sets in. But when we don’t change, we are left with depression, worry, rejection and, most noticeably, anger.

Usually if you just have faith and crawl forward a few more steps from where you’ve been knocked down and dispirited, you will be able to reach the next stage and reap the rewards of risking and taking positive action in spite of fear.

5. Joy and Integration. In this stage, the changes are truly a part of your life. You realize you are happy about the changes you have made, and they begin to pay off in a big way. You are enjoying your new job or your business takes a turn for the better, for example.

It has been said that you can’t change your personality, but that isn’t true. Personalities are changed all the time in very fundamental ways. I have change and communications clients right now who have made astounding changes-such as people who felt stuck at work and have found new jobs and new careers or couples who have improved their conflict resolution skills. If you stick with it, it’s amazing the changes that you can make happen.

NOTE: “The Change Game” was first published in Bottom Line/Personal, Volume 15, Number 14, July 15, 1994. The internet address for Bottom Line/Personal is

Dr. Dennis O’Grady is a communications coach and consulting psychologist from Dayton, Ohio, and the author of Taking the Fear out Of Changing and Talk to Me at

Tags: No tags

Add a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.