How to cope with unexpected change

Guide to accepting a change – even when it is not welcome.

Change can be purposeful and deliberate. In other cases, however, change can be completely unexpected.

The COVID-19 outbreak is a radical and sudden change for individuals and organizations around the world. In a matter of days, normal routines (at home and work) have been completely revised and everyone is experiencing the challenge of coping with unforeseen and unwanted change.

As change management consultants, we often observe the impacts of unexpected change when organizations fail to prepare the people that will be directly impacted by the change. We prefer a proactive approach that identifies the individuals that might be impacted and informs them of the changes before they are implemented.

However, that is not always possible. Whether it was a lack of preparation or an unexpected factor, there are scenarios when change is thrust upon us without warning.

An unexpected factor we are all dealing with is the global COVID-19 outbreak.

The process to cope with unexpected change is to accept and adopt the change. By acknowledging your role and the factors that you can control, you can contribute to better outcomes.


When we support groups that are impacted by a change, our goal is to determine what is needed for them to accept and adopt the change. There is a reason it is being implemented or the change is simply not possible to halt, so acceptance is required to move forward.

Accepting the change means acknowledging what is happening and identifying any personal feelings, concerns and impacts. With this information, it’s possible to work towards minimizing, mitigating or avoiding the unwanted effects.

Accepting the change isn’t permission to give up. We may not be in control of the change or we may be incapable of stopping the chain of events that led to the current situation. However, we have control over our role and responses to the change. We can contribute to a better outcome and we can learn from the experience – but today we must do what we can to accept where we’re at.

Given the parameters of the situation and the circumstances of the unwanted change, we must ask: what do we need to accept and adopt the change?




The following questions are the same we use when assisting individuals that are impacted by a change. For any situation where you are dealing with an unexpected or unwanted situation, review these questions.

  • What do I know about the change?
  • What additional information do I need to understand why the change is occurring?
  • Where can I get factual information about the change?
  • How do I feel about the change?
  • How am I impacted by the change?
  • What’s within and outside my control?
  • What will I do to positively contribute to the change?
  • What can I do to proactively help make me comfortable with the change?
  • How will I do it?
  • What is my personal accountability for success or failure of the change?

The intended outcome is to move forward with a new understanding of your personal role and responses. This will not dissolve all undesired impacts or challenges – but accepting the change is the first step.




It is humbling to experience immense and unstoppable change. As change management consultants, we are continuously supporting individuals that are experiencing a change that they did not request. The COVID-19 outbreak is a reminder that experiencing change can be frightening, uncomfortable and – at times – dire.

If possible, prepare for a change so you can reduce and mitigate the challenges.

But preparation isn’t always possible. Coping with change is not easy, but the first step to moving forward is acknowledging your role and what you can contribute.

During this period of global uncertainty, the individuals that are impacted go beyond a specific group or region. So, another question to ask is: what do my family, friends and community need to accept and adopt the change?

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