On the Corner

Don’t bother me–I can’t cope

by Robert Doctor –

In recent weeks, officers and their families throughout the territory have been feeling considerable stress, marking time in their current appointments, collecting packing boxes and checking the current prices on U-Haul trucks. All of them contemplate the possibility of leaving one appointment and moving on to another.

Some simply see at as a physical change in location. Others perceive it more accurately as a burden of psychological stress that makes significant demands on every person involved—the officers’ family, the employees, the corps soldiers and members, the advisory board members, the network of connections the officer has established within the community.

For some reason unknown to me, we call them “moves”—probably because that’s the most visible part of this process. Believe me—this is considerably more than just moving from one location to another. William Bridges, in his best selling book Managing Transitions, describes this type of change as situational—“… new site, new boss, new team roles, new policies.” He makes the point that “it’s not the change that does you in, it’s the transition—the psychological process people go through to come to terms with the new situation. Change is external, transition is internal.”

In the Army, that transitional process involves a lot more than the officer. Unless people involved work diligently to confront the transition, the change won’t be effective at all. As an organization, the Army provides almost no help in facilitating this transition. This is highly unfortunate. We need to recognize that the old days of standing, saluting, and packing are not helpful to whatever appointment at which the officer unpacks.

Bridges says that: “Transition begins with letting go of something…a whole network of relationships.” It’s an “ending.” This “letting go” provides great chunks of fear that some interpret as excitement, some as trauma, and some as an absence of control over one’s life. It’s like swinging on a trapeze fifty feet above the floor—letting go—and hoping the person on the other trapeze has timed things correctly and is in the right place to catch you. Bridges calls this part between the two trapezes “the neutral zone.”

You need to be ready for this “neutral zone.” If you pretend it isn’t there, or ignore it or bury it in the activity of packing and unpacking you’re going to be hit with some strong feelings—disappointment, discouragement, frustration, confusion. Doubt concerning your mission, your role in life, your skills, may creep in. You may lose sight of some significant goals in your life and initiate a process of irrational thought.

This is crazymaking. Recognize you’re in this “neutral zone.” We might even describe it as a “faith-checker.” Bridges describes it as an individual’s and an organization’s best chance for creativity, renewal and development. It is the entryway for a “new beginning.”

Bridges says we need to support people through this process. He provides a lengthy list of specifics—first, the process of letting go. Officers need to figure out what is being lost in the current situation. There’s always some loss, and it needs to be acknowledged. They need to grieve that loss and to help those around them do the same thing. He says we need to “give people information, and do it again and again.” We also need to “identify what ends and what doesn’t end.” I add that this business of doing all of these “moves” at the same time is counterproductive. It means we can’t provide the kind of help needed in the transition process.

Bridges’ list for helping organizations launching new beginnings includes two important warnings. The first concerns the timing variance of top administration, that might have had a considerable head start in working through the process—as contrasted with middle management who might still be stuck in the neutral zone—as contrasted with those in the field that haven’t even begun letting go. The second warning is “not to overwhelm people with a (change) so hard for them to identify with that they become intimidated (or discouraged) rather than excited by it.”

He concludes with a check-list of essential activities to “take care of yourself.” It should be essential reading for anyone impacted by change and undergoing transition.

Managing Transitions is published by Perseus Publishing.



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