Rachel Letby, Director of Crail Consulting, discusses why we should do all we can to win over those we may see as our ‘adversaries’ when trying to implement change in the workplace
“The snowdrops are out and at last Spring feels like it’s on its way. As ever, some things at this time of year never change: the daffodils, the primroses, life returning to the soil, animals wakening from their winter hibernation, lambs being born and those mad March hares fighting!
“Unfortunately, the term ‘fighting’ does tend to have negative connotations, much in the same way as ‘managing conflict’. Our immediate response is to think of violence, irrationality and foes who are ‘stuck in their corners’; essentially our adversaries. Yet, ‘fighting’ is readily used in business as if that’s acceptable.
“However there is another way of viewing this. People who are vocal about change have the energy and commitment to stand up and assert their views. They are unwilling to be passive and let change take its course, and they are exactly the ones you want to be supporting and leading change in your organisation.
“The starting point, of course, is to identify these people. Not all resistance is overt. My aim in this blog is to focus on those who have been openly hostile to proposed changes. We will look at covert resistance in a subsequent blog.
“There are usually a few people who are the most vociferous, but don’t assume these people are the only ones resistant to change. They are advocates who can influence others and so are worth the effort.
“Before rushing in and marking them as adversaries, it’s worth taking time to listen to them. By that, I mean sitting and listening, taking notice of the ‘two ears, one mouth’ approach. Listen twice as much as you speak. Demonstrate that you are actively listening to them and taking them seriously, not just paying ‘lip service’.
“They may have seen proposed changes come and go and view them all as failures. Why do they view them as failures? What criteria did they use for judging them? Can that criteria be applied to the proposed change? What do they think could have been done better? This is all rewarding material to help enhance the success of the proposed changes.
“Often their reasons are pragmatic and not about the change itself but concerns about how it might be implemented. They may have a history of experiencing poor implementation and so can help you with learning from those experiences and applying them to future implementations.
“Showing people respect by demonstrating that they are being heard helps to reduce the emotional element of conflict. That respect includes being honest with them. Honesty does not mean answering every question. For example, it may not be the right time to answer as the design for change might still be in a state flux. Honesty in that situation is saying that you can’t give them an answer at the moment, but suggest when you can. If you can’t, give an approximate timeline and follow through!
“We’re not suggesting that everyone will become allies but you owe them the opportunity. Isn’t it better having people with energy on your side rather than those who sit on the fence?
“A final thought to end. When we see picture of hares fighting, we view them as fighting because we have preconceptions about that image. However if you were open minded, you might view the same picture as hares having a grand old time in each other’s company, and maybe even dancing together!”
To find out how Crail Consulting can help you implement a successful change programme in your workplace, please call 0131 2722760.