Transforming Talk at Work | November 2015



Dear Reader,

“I’m so frustrated,” Nicole recently shared. “I was hired to usher in change . . . and no one is interested in changing. In fact, they all seem dead set against it,” she said, irritated.

“Even my manager – the one who hired me – ‘to bring the change we so desperately need’ is resistant to change,” she continued. “What gives?”

“Tell me,” I replied “what you think of when you hear the word resistant? What image comes to mind?”

Nicole thought briefly. “A brick wall. There’s no way through it, no way around it. Impenetrable.”

“Excellent,” I replied.

“Excellent? How is that excellent?” Nicole retorted, now exasperated with me!
“Well, it gives us a great place to from which to begin to reframe. You see, when something is as impenetrable as you described, it feels impossible. And your efforts are bound to reflect that, often in very subtle ways. If you think it’s impossible, then guess what – it is.”

Nicole gave a slight nod of agreement.

“So let’s shift how you’re approaching their reaction to your change efforts. What if, instead of resistant, they were reluctant? What image comes to mind when you think of reluctance?”

“Hmm,” Nicole thought. “Unwilling to do something, probably with some reasons, and maybe a little fearful even. I think about my daughter’s reluctance to ride a rollercoaster. When she musters up the courage to get on, she loves it. But standing there, watching it and waiting for her turn, she is VERY reluctant.”

“Exactly! What if you shifted how you saw your colleagues’ reaction to change? What if you saw it as reluctance rather than resistance?” I asked.

“Well, I guess they have reasons for not wanting to change. They might be afraid, they might be nervous. They are comfortable with how they do things now – even if they aren’t getting the results they want.”

I nodded my agreement and asked, “What image comes to mind when you think of reluctance?”

“I see a door in that brick wall. It’s not open,” Nicole laughed, “but at least there’s an opening. There’s a way in.”

As Nicole realized, people’s comfort with uncertainty varies widely. Their reaction to change reflects that level of comfort (or discomfort). When we position others as resistant, resistance is exactly what we can expect to get from them. When we reframe that to reluctance, we see that there may be some reasons, rationale, and maybe even some fear that is standing between them and change.

Reluctance is something we can work with. We can be far more understanding, compassionate even, when we examine the reasons, the rationale and the fear the other person is experiencing. It gives us new access to explaining the change and ushering in the change in a way that addresses those reasons, rationale and yes, even fear.

The next time you are ushering in change, take a moment to reframe any resistance you meet as reluctance.


Reverse Engineer: Transforming Resistance to Reluctance

1. Take a step back. Prepare to look at the situation from a new angle.
2. Consciously shift your perception of their behavior from resistance to reluctance.
3. Make a list of the reasons they might be reluctant. Like a scientist, you are making hypotheses about their behavior.
4. Ask questions. Test the hypotheses you created in your list. Find out what their real reasons, rationale and fears are.
5. Revise your communication. Change up the way you’re explaining the changes so that they address any reasons, rationale and fears you’ve heard.
6. Check for understanding. Are they with you now? Give them a little time to absorb and integrate this new way of thinking about the changes. Remain available for questions and ongoing dialogue.


Digest This: Change is Brewing

The Strategic Narrative: A Better Way to Communicate Change (Forbes)
Tell a story to communicate change? You bet! The author introduces the genre of the strategic narrative, a story built specifically to communicate change. The strategic narrative is an inspirational and motivational story that illustrates why change is needed and important. Try it yourself the next time you need to usher in change.

5 Tips to Avoiding Creating Change Spectators (Entrepreneur)
When the winds of change roll through, you want your people in the game, not sitting on the sidelines, watching the change from afar. The author shares five essential communication principles that can help leaders facilitate and encourage positive change within their organizations. These techniques will keep employees engaged in change, rather than spectating.

The One Word Employees Dread Hearing in the Workplace (Fortune)
Change should make people feel excited, not anxious, notes the author. But how to get people excited instead of nervous is another matter. This article highlights three keys to leading through change that will make it easier to look forward to the new road ahead.


My Treat: Changing Time

Most of North America has just transitioned through a twice annual change . . . a change in our clocks. This video, Saving Daylight, makes me laugh out loud – and loudly – every time I watch it.



Minneapolis/St. Paul Area Friends

I will be speaking at the Minneapolis Woman’s Club Breakfast Networking Session on Thursday, November 12.

There’s always great networking and men are welcome too! Learn more and register to attend here:

Until next time,

Janel Anderson, PhD
Workplace Communication Expert and CEO of Working Conversations

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