It’s easy to get frustrated when some of your staff resist your efforts to make crucial changes. Why don’t they just get on board?
Robert Tomasko, a specialist in organizational effectiveness, urges managers not to see such defensiveness as a flaw or an enemy to be overcome. In Bigger Isn’t Always Better: The New Mindset for Real Business Growth, Tomasko advises bosses to accept that defensiveness is part of human nature, something to be expected and worked with. His suggestions for doing so include:
- Don’t try to convert pessimists into optimists: Attempting to change a pessimist’s views is hard and distracting work. It’s better to deal with them on their own terms. If they’re feeling anxious about the changes you’re seeking, reassure them. Provide a structure to involve them in the changes. Tolerate their anxiety, which can motivate them to act. Don’t shower them with unwanted encouragement, ask them to lighten up or tell them to think positive thoughts. This will only weaken their ability to perform.
- See naysayers as a useful resource: People who fear change pay attention to details that optimists might gloss over. They anticipate problems and tend to think hard about all the things that might go wrong with your plan — risks you might not have thought of yourself. Enlist their help to identify potential pitfalls and figure out how to avoid them. Seeing their perspective as useful, rather than an emotional drag on your endeavour, will immunize you from their negative mood. And make sure the optimists on your team understand the pessimists’ contribution.
- Treat your team members as if they already are what you wish them to become: Winston Churchill rallied his countrymen during the Battle of Britain in 1940 by addressing them as if they were already the heroic people they needed to be to withstand the ferocious German air bombardment. In his celebrated speeches, he prevented a people traumatized by the Germans’ stunning series of conquests from lapsing into cowardice. Churchill idealized the British with such intensity that they began to see themselves as he saw them, and to act accordingly.
- Make the case for change with the widest appeal: List the various arguments for the change you’re seeking. Then choose the one least likely to trigger defensiveness — even if it’s not your own chief motivator. In 1947, when Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey proposed to the team’s board of directors that it recruit black players into what was then an all-white league, he said nothing about ending racial discrimination. Instead, he selected the argument the board (and fans) would be least likely to object to: that black players were a new source of talent in a hotly competitive labour market. Only once Jackie Robinson’s superb play had built a reservoir of goodwill did Rickey make the case for social justice — which was his own goal all along.