Coping positively with change

If the only constant is change, we have no choice but to deal with it. Why not do so in a positive way? TIM SHARP

Timothy Sharp Happiness Institute

By Tim Sharp

I have, in recent weeks, had several conversations with organisations looking for help to remain positive despite difficult circumstances. Increasingly, when we engage with businesses, coping with change positively is becoming one of the core components of our “Happiness at Work” programs.

But whether it’s the current economic difficulties or the challenge of finding staff in an environment of low unemployment, or even the difficulties facing those flourishing organisations undergoing rapid growth, long-term success will come to those who courageously face and actively manage change positively.

I mean how many of you reading this right now are not going through change (either personally or as part of your organisation or business)? As we all know, it is constant and ever present and so if it’s something that’s happening then we really have no choice but to deal with it… and if we’re going to deal with it we might as well try to deal with it as positively and constructively as possible.

This is where my Positive Change Model can be very helpful (see image below).

Positive Change Model

Developed after almost two decades of research along with practical experience working with literally thousands of individuals and hundreds of teams and organisations, this model provides a framework for those wanting to positively manage change by outlining a somewhat complex but still accessible and comprehensible structure involving two dimensions and three layers.

In simple terms, we can make change positive by looking at it on an individual level, interpersonal level and finally, taking into account the context in which we and the people around us operate and work. Within this, one also needs to take into account issues of “skill versus will” by which I mean we need to differentiate between goals that can be achieved via learning and skills acquisition on the one hand, and those that require more sophisticated psychological and motivational input.

For example, and at the risk of over-simplifying matters, positive change can be achieved via any of the following paths (although I’d suggest, based on my experience over the years, that the most positive results will come from targeting all levels and appropriately utilising all strategies simultaneously):

  • Help individuals (a) learn new skills and (b) develop more constructively optimistic attitudes.
  • Help teams (a) collaborate more effectively and (b) utilise positive role-models.
  • Ensure the environment (a) is safe and comfortable and (b) reinforces positive, desirable behaviours.

Now I don’t have the space here to go into each of the strategies that can be derived from this model in depth, but in short change can and should be approached as an opportunity for improvement. This might sound slightly clichéd but the reality is that this model for positive change is based on decades of research and has been applied in numerous settings and, quite simply, it works.

So if you and/or your organisation are facing change right now then don’t be afraid to face the cold, hard realities… but face them in a positive way because if you do you’ll not just increase your chances of achieving a better outcome but you’ll also increase your chances of enjoying the process along the way.


Dr. Sharp’s latest book (published August 2008) is “100 Ways to Happiness: a Guide for Busy People” (Penguin). You can find out more about corporate programs, presentations, and coaching services at and You can also ask him questions using the Comments panel below.

For more Dr Happy blogs, click here.



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