Written by: Cordell Hensley – KCTS Lean Consultant
If you’ve ever tried to make a change at work or implement a new policy, programme or project you have surely run into one of these characters; the ones who say “we’ve tried that before”, “it won’t work here”, or “here comes another management fad or flavour of the month”. How you deal with these people can be the difference between the success and failure of your project. Even if they are not in a position to influence the project, they can sure make things difficult for you as the change agent. So the question is “how should we deal with these people”?
The first thing I would suggest is that we attempt to avoid it in the first place; we can often do this simply by communicating early, often & well. We talk about communication all the time, and we see good and bad examples of it. The better your communication with people involved in or affected by a change, the better that change will be accepted, implemented and sustained.
The second – and a lead into the first – is to expect resistance. Often the problem is that managers often think their ideas are so great, why wouldn’t the staff want to do this, that or the other thing? If we don’t expect the resistance, we will not be prepared for it. If we are not prepared for it, then we have a good chance of facing it.
If we have failed to anticipate it, or have anticipated it but been unable to stop it through effective communication then the first thing I would suggest is to try to find out where the negativity is coming from. Is it inherent in their personality (yes, there are people like that out there), is it the memory of a bad experience, have they been through many of these before or is it just the fear of the unknown or of change itself? Understanding where the negativity is coming from should help you deal with it and in many cases allows you to resolve the issues with the person or people who are resisting the project.
Depending on the reasoning behind the resistance the possibilities for dealing with it are many. Some suggestions for things NOT to do:
Don’t goad or push people into something they are uncomfortable with. You may have to force change through in the end but if you at least make attempts to understand the feelings and concerns of the resistors then you have a chance of allaying the fears or resolving the issue. If you force through the change without this “step” you could possibly make an enemy for life.
Don’t let emotions get involved. We are at work, this is not personal (or at least it shouldn’t be) and the more we can keep it on a professional level, the easier it will be to get to a resolution. Emotions build and people get more and more upset and nobody wins.
Don’t “lock horns”. When you are at an impasse or if things are not going well with this person, step away, take a break and resolve to come back later after putting some thought into how to approach the situation/person better.
Regardless of the reasoning behind the resistance there are plenty of Do’s as well:
Do listen and engage with people. Often the biggest issue people have is that they feel like mushrooms – kept in the dark and fed &^%$. Speak to them, communicate with them and treat them as humans- often this is enough to get past the resistance.
Do try to understand their point of view. While we may not always agree with it, resolving differences of opinion often requires the understanding of the other’s views. If we refuse to see things from their perspective, why should we expect them to see things from ours?
Do try to find some common ground. You may not be able to agree on everything, but if you can find some common ground then you have a position that you can move forward together from. Often in disagreements it is much less about the issue at hand, and more about the way we work with people. Finding common ground allows us to feel like we are on the same side. It reduces the barriers which will always help.
Resistance to change is normal, we can probably all admit to being that person at least once in our career. How we deal with it and the people putting it forward says a lot about us and who we are and it can be the difference between a successful project and a failure.