Have you ever been confronted by someone who was upset, angry, or disappointed by change?
When you find yourself a part of a team that’s shaking up the old routine or trying something new, you will likely be faced with someone who really and emotionally disagrees with that change.
How you handle those conversations can impact the success of the change effort and your relationships with the people who disagree with the new direction.
I once found myself on a team tasked with improving a long-standing process. Our team spent a lot of time and brainpower thinking through each part of the system, the consequences of our proposed changes, and how to successfully launch the updated (and, in our opinion, improved) process.
We quickly learned that not everyone shared our opinion.
Once that revised system was implemented, we heard from several people who were upset about the change: how it was communicated to the larger group, the shifts it made to how work was done, even the underlying philosophical differences between the old and new approaches.
One of my teammates brilliantly fielded the complaints. He patiently listened to each person’s perspective. He thanked them for their willingness to share their ideas. He stayed calm and acknowledged their feelings when faced with anxiety, frustration, and anger. He took their concerns seriously, bringing them to the team to see if we might be able to incorporate some of their suggestions to further improve the system.
I took some valuable lessons from watching my teammate manage the change and the reactions of those who weren’t happy about it:
Build consensus. If you’re a part of a group of people who are working on a change effort, you can make your collective path a bit smoother by building consensus before the change is launched. Getting stakeholders to the planning table and getting input from those who’ll be affected by the potential change makes sure that the best choices are made. It also ensures there’s a united coalition of supporters behind the effort once it’s launched. These ambassadors can help the larger group acclimate to the change.
Listen. Most of us want to know that our voices are heard and that our opinions, ideas, and concerns matter. You can give those who disagree with the decision a chance to be heard, without debate or argument. That validation alone may be enough to help them begin to process what the new path before them means. Even if they never completely support the change, they’ll likely appreciate the time and care you demonstrated by listening to them. That generosity can result in a stronger, more trusting relationship moving forward.
Acknowledge where people are. Coming to grips with a change can be a process for most of us. In fact, researchers have identified a change process that is similar to the stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. We all move through the stages of accepting change at our own pace. We may skip stages, revert back to one we thought we’d already moved through, or experience multiple feelings simultaneously. Giving people the space and time to process change in their own way requires patience, kindness, and generosity. The payoff, though, is that they’ll likely reach a point where the change is no longer causing them nearly as much anxiety or distress as it first did. The storm will likely ultimately pass.
Take care of yourself. While in the midst of the storm, you may be experiencing your own multitude of emotions, including but not limited to guilt, fear, anxiety, sadness, frustration, and impatience. Just because you helped craft the change doesn’t exempt you from coming to your own terms with the new direction. And if you’re fielding other people’s anxious, fearful, or angry reactions, you’ll have the added weight of those emotions to carry with you. Find your own supports – friends and family, healthy stress relievers like exercise, meditation, or other personally uplifting activities – that can help you maintain your balance and process your feelings in positive ways.
Change – whether planned or unexpected – is one of the only things we can truly depend on in life. These guidelines and strategies can help you navigate those changes with grace, humor, and integrity.