Letting Go – the 1st phase of transition

Last week I outlined the 3 phases of transition: 1) Letting Go, 2) the Neutral Zone, and 3) New Beginnings. These phases are overlapping and sometimes iterative, depending on the depth of attachment to the situation/identity which is being left behind.

Letting go has 2 major aspects: loss and uncertainty:

1. Loss. A loss of what was, and what could have been. A closing of a door, precluding any opportunity to rectify mistakes, to offer a brilliant insight, to… Where there has been serious attachment, the person or group can go through the 5 stages of grief identified by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross: 1 denial, 2) anger, 3) bargaining, 4) depression, and 5) acceptance. Example – the workers at the Carrier plant in Indiana who have been told that their jobs are being off-shored.

Even when the change is “good”, such as a promotion, a person or group still needs to let go of the old. This can sometimes be more difficult, because the person or group might not understand why they are having mixed feelings about the new opportunity.

Unfortunately, our culture tends to view people and groups as resources to be deployed, ignoring the psychological processes necessary to adapt to change. Compounding the difficulty, each individual, each group, grieves and lets go differently.

2. Uncertainty. As a person or group lets go of the old, they face uncertainty about what to do in their new capacity. Questions and doubts abound and multiply. How will they learn to function in this new role? Will they succeed? There can be an underlying fear of failure. One example is people adapting to a new information system – they have to use the new system, which they are not yet expert at. Facing uncertainty requires courage; it is far easier to cling to the old way.

If a person or group does not let go emotionally, they remain stuck in the past and compromise their ability to function effectively.

Some ways to let go include:

· Honoring each other

· Celebrating accomplishments and relationships

o Most humorous experiences (“Remember when that experiment caught on fire?”)

· Identifying and recording “lessons learned”

· Creating the space for members to commit to future mutual support and/or communication

· Allowing time to grieve, and allowing each person to grieve in their own way

· Talking things out with a trusted co-worker, friend, or professional (e.g. life coach, LCSW, pastor…)

What have you learned about letting go, either by personal experience or by watching others? What has helped you let go? What has hindered the process?

Next week I’ll cover the Neutral Zone.

Gary Langenwalter

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