In a Merger, Employees Don’t Fear Change. They Hate the Uncertainty.


In a Merger, Employees Don’t Fear Change. They Hate the Uncertainty.

We’d all like to be poised, confident, and self-assured. Too bad life gets in the way. Cancelled flights, unexpected traffic jams, weather emergencies, unwelcome health news, mergers and acquisitions… all situations that create uncertainty.

Some will say that people’s emotions run high in a situation like a corporate merger because of an innate fear of change. To be sure, M&A activity means change. Our view though is that it is not the change that people fear, it is the uncertainty about what exactly will change and when.

The key, then, is how you choose to deal with the certainty of uncertainty. Most people don’t actively manage those feelings — and the situation. Most people give in to anxiety or despair and look for ways to make it “go away.”

“I just can’t deal with this,” is a common response, and without external forms of certainty (as in a merger situation where it’s easy to dwell on things like, “When will ‘they’ tell me about my role in the new company?”), we take matters into our own hands and force the issue.

As a result, we never find out if we are “this close” to getting the answer we seek (a great new opportunity, possibly), and our anxiety pushes us to prematurely choose a “known” option instead of waiting for a not-yet-known option.

So how do you deal with the predictable uncertainty that comes with a merger?  In our experience, there are several mental approaches that help minimize anxiety and allow you to focus on the fact that uncertain situations often result in more opportunities, options, and possibilities:

  1. Don’t suffer in advance. A favorite quote comes from Mark Twain, “Many horrible things have been in my life – some of which actually happened!” Worry is wasted creativity when you spend precious brain cycles problem-solving a future that is unlikely to occur.
  2. Don’t ruminate. If you find yourself cycling through your anxiety and rehashing the same thoughts over and over, you’re caught in a trap.  You’ll deplete your energy and compromise your ability to handle today’s tasks. Break the chain; talk with someone you trust, someone who can provide valuable, objective perspectives, and start on the path toward more rational self-talk.
  3. Don’t jump to conclusions. Too often when we can’t get the information we need to help us reduce or eliminate our uncertainty, we assume someone else knows how things will play out and they’re just not telling us.  That thought process is problematic. The better assumption to make is that people have good intentions. Then you can be confident that you’ll find out when the time is right — and not before. Geographic distance can magnify this dynamic, so if you find yourself located hundreds or even thousands of miles from leaders, work twice as hard to give them and others the benefit of the doubt.
  4. Don’t hide. One of the most unproductive responses to uncertainty and anxiety is to “turtle in” and play a not-to-lose game; in other words, go into a self-preservation mode instead of assuring your value moving forward.  Use strategies to make yourself indispensable to the company (in terms of adding value), and you’ll BE indispensable. Literally.

Uncertainty isn’t a mandate for anxiety. We all have a choice when it comes to actively managing our feelings.  Remember to stay in the present and don’t speculatively invent the future.  Keep your self-talk under control and work hard to not commiserate with others around the proverbial water cooler about what is going wrong. Assume best intentions from others, and keep your eye on delivering value to your organization and to your customers.

These strategies will not only reduce your anxiety but you’ll also find you will be more optimistic about the future — even in the face of the uncertainty that accompanies a major change like a merger or acquisition.

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