Why transitions matter more than changes

We are living through a time of change. And every major change we go through brings with it a psychological or emotional transition.

What are the differences between the two?

Changes happen in the outer world. They are about starting or finishing a project, role, or relationship.
Transitions happen in our inner world: they are about the impacts these changes have on our identity and our emotions.

Changes involve places, things, events, transactions, and hierarchies.
Transitions are about meanings, relationships, and stories.

Changes are visible, tangible.
Transitions are invisible, intangible.

Changes can happen quickly.
Transitions can take a long time for people to work through.

Changes are predictable.
Transitions are unpredictable.

Comparing changes and transitions

For example, following an acquisition, Jane and her team found themselves with a new reporting line on the organisation chart. The changes they were being asked to implement were relatively straightforward: they could easily adapt to the new priorities, technologies, and performance metrics they were being asked to take on.

But what really mattered to the team was the impact on their identities:

  • Would their work still be as important to the strategy of the firm?
  • Would they still be as closely involved with key decision-makers?
  • Would their status in the industry and jobs market be higher or lower?

Because these emotional transitions were invisible, nobody was talking about them, let alone managing them. But these were the issues that mattered to the team. And these were the issues that would determine the success or failure of the acquisition.

As change guru William Bridges puts it:

“It isn’t the changes that do you in, it’s the transitions.”

Transitions matter more than changes. 

Understanding this is another step to becoming antifragile.

Are you or the people around you going through any changes at the moment? Is anybody managing the psychological and emotional transitions that are also happening?

Adapted from Inner Leadership: a framework and tools for building inspiration in times of change.

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Photo By Stig Nygaard via StockPholio.net

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