Respecting the resisters will bring them on side, advocates Elizabeth Doty, writing for Strategy+Business.
When you instigate any change in your organisation there will always be team members who cling doggedly to the status quo. It’s easy to label them as whingers and disregard their views, but that’s not going to make for a smooth transition, no matter how upbeat your ideas and plans are.
While you might instinctively pay more attention to those who are willing champions for your goals, ignoring the dissenters can build a virtual wall between those with conflicting viewpoints and encourage a culture of “us” and “them”.
Doty says the truth is that there is no right or wrong in change, only different perspectives, and the naysayers could have information that will help your decision making:
“Change champions tend to pay attention to the upside of their future vision and the downside of today’s status quo. Conversely, resisters pay attention to the downside of the change and the upside of the current state. They see the risks.”
So how can you steer the two sides to meet in the middle and have a positive, collective input in your future strategies?
1) Accept that you, as their leader, cannot be 100 per cent right. But that doesn’t mean relinquishing your lead.
2) Reevaluate how you regard resistance. See those who oppose change as guardians or protectors, instead of nuisances. Treat them like intelligent adults and respect their views, even though they don’t match your own. Then tap into the wisdom of the guardians. “Guardians keep us honest in the face of self-delusion or blind spots.”
3) Turn the “us” and “them” dividing wall into a bridge. Having recognised that both guardians and change champions have valid views, look more deeply into both standpoints before minds are set into camps that will never effectively engage. Begin by asking the dissenters for their detailed thoughts about the good things in the current set up and for their specific worries about the proposed changes. Valid points could emerge.
“You gather input, not as a way to get them to buy into the change, but because they have important information you may be missing. Remember Stanley Tucci as the risk management officer in the movie Margin Call? He isn’t resisting the new direction out of spite; he knows the risks are too great.”
4) Dispel misconceptions and assumptions. A lot of workplace conflict is based on lack of information, so make sure you provide honest answers and encourage your teams to do the same, clearing up any crossed wires and letting communication flow.
Whether you stand by your original plans, or choose to take on board some valid points from the status quo guardians, demonstrating your respect for dissenters will bring them on side much more easily.