One of the most frustrating things I have experienced as a parent is the inability to get my kids to cooperate. There are many times when I need them to do something that they have no interest in doing, and it needs to be done now. In these situations, I have a choice to make in how I approach the situation. Do I give direct orders? Try to convince them that they should cooperate? Guilt them into it?
I’m always trying to evaluate the situation and choose the approach that is most likely to get quick compliance with my demands. Unfortunately, the initial reaction is almost always “No”.
Clean your room.
Put your shoes on and get in the car.
Do you want a hundred dollars?
They don’t even listen before saying no. It’s a reaction, not a rational decision. No amount of logic or reasoning will change their mind because they aren’t even thinking.
They want to spend their time and energy in a particular way and there is no room for your ideas. They have dug their heals in and are ready to fight. Making progress can feel like an impossible task.
As much as we don’t want to admit it, adults do this too. If it is not our idea, most of us don’t react well to change.
The Change Curve
Our typical reaction to change that has been forced upon us is described well by the Kübler-Ross Change Curve. This theory was originally developed in the 1960’s by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross to describe the stages of grief that a dying patient experiences. Her model has since been adapted to organizational changes.
The entire first half of the change curve is made up of negative and unproductive reactions. We try to deny that the change is necessary. We dig in our heals and resist with defensiveness or anger. We drag our heals and hope the change fails. None of these reactions are likely to lead to a positive outcome.
The decision to support an idea is one that individuals must come to on their own. It can’t be forced.
It’s not until the individual makes a decision to accept the change that they are able to progress to the positive side of the curve. This decision is one that they must come to on their own. It can’t be forced.
Our goal as leaders is to help individuals navigate through these stages and reach the transition point as quickly and easily as possible.
Making the Transition
The best strategy for helping your team navigate through the change curve will depend on what stage they are experiencing. You must adapt your approach to fit the situation if you want the change to progress. However, there are some general guidelines you can follow in most situations.
A significant number of the negative reactions in the early part of the change curve are emotional. Trying to convince someone to change with logical arguments or fancy sales pitches are not likely to change anything. If anything, they are likely to dig in and fight even more.
Provide the initial information necessary for someone to understand the change you are proposing, then give them space to make the decision for themselves. Most people can’t make decisions without time to think and process. Be available to answer questions and provide clarifications as they process the situation, but don’t pester or pursue them. This could drive them away if you are not careful.
It’s like planting a seed. They need to be planted, sometimes multiple times, watered, and nurtured over a significant period of time. Ideas need time to germinate and for others to decide that they are worth pursuing.
Timing is Important
It’s not always about individuals and their decision to adopt a change. Sometimes the timing just isn’t right for the organization.
If you propose an idea that is sufficiently forward-thinking, the organization may not be ready for it. I have lost count of how many times I have proposed an idea, but had to wait, sometimes for years, for my team to be ready for the change.
During this waiting period, I will continue to help individuals process the idea while keeping an eye on environmental changes that indicate the timing is right. Two things that commonly indicate that the timing is right are a critical mass of individuals that are ready to support the idea and a burning platform that makes the need for change obvious. If you have done a good job in planting and watering the seeds of your idea, it shouldn’t take much to generate momentum at this point.
Next time you want to create buy-in for an idea, remember that your job is not to convince others. It is to generate conditions that allow them to decide on their own to support the idea. Give them the space they need to process the situation and decide for themselves that they want to be a part of the solution.
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