Talking Change: Ten Tips on Making Change Happen in the Workplace

By Dr. Molly Barrow

Have you had it at work? Are you tired of the same interactions that are increasingly stressful and less productive? Have you talked to your co-workers about making a change but another month passes and nothing changes at all? Here are ways that you can make successful changes that put efficiency and comfort back into strained work relationships.

These ten tips on change talking will help transform your warring co-worker into a willing and involved team player.

1. The “I” Statement: If you start out with the word “you” the immediate reaction is one of defense. Instead, say “I want…” You must decide what is most important to you, right now. To make sure your message stands out in its importance, focus on only one subject.

If you ask for multiple things all at once, you are diluting your message, which means you are definitely not going to get what you want. Your co-workers will stop paying attention. The important thing is that you establish a pattern of getting what you want and especially what you need. Say, “I want a change in this workplace.” Who can argue with that?

2. Make an Appointment: Next, agree on an undisturbed time early in the day when you and your co-workers are able to talk uninterrupted for at least an hour. This is a time to discuss and listen, maybe with a third party, like a supervisor or business mentor. The third person, acting as a mediator, can help keep it more of a discussion and less of a fight.

3. It’s Your Fault: As you each discuss the problem, somebody’s feelings may get in the way. The more frightened the dog, the more likely it will bite you, so be prepared to get nipped. Exploring the un-chartered waters of new behaviors, techniques or methods is threatening. Cut your co-worker some slack and be compassionate, even while he or she is resisting your new ideas.

4. It’s All My Fault: Do not give or allow one person to take on all the blame for a current situation. Doing this will cause the discussion to be bogged down in self-pity, guilt-induced wailing, and eventually, revenge. Be willing to share the blame and the discussion will move forward.

5. Anger and Tears: Loud “barking” may occur. People who feel pressured and cornered will avoid revealing dark, hidden, secret fears and insecurities and will defensively lose their temper to cover and stall for time. This is when that experienced third party can divert and calm things down.

Stay focused on talking about the benefits of change and try to ignore any obnoxious or angry reactions that may include hurling accusations or digging in stubbornly.

6. Stroke and Be Patient: As co-workers attempt to handle their anxiety about change, you can adjust to help to steady them. Give reassurances that you believe in them, respect their expertise and need their skills so that they can get control of their runaway emotions. Only then can you get back to talking about the subject that you want to discuss. This is where true leaders should surface and where many people in the past have cost themselves their upward mobility by overreacting.  

Most people mistrust change and some need to work through their terrifying anxiety about losing control. Their idea of change may include a fear that the work environment might get worse, rather than better. This stubbornness may be misdirected protection of their ability to do a good job. A good leader will take the time to be patient while a co-worker adjusts. People who love or need their job the most may demonstrate greater resistance to new directions.

7. Let it Rest: After the hour of tight bellies and clenched jaws, the emotional bombing should subside and reason and logic now have an opportunity to surface. Watch for that brief moment when your co-worker sees it from your side. When that happens, call a recess to the meeting and take a break. Let your co-workers incorporate how the proposed change may impinge on them personally. This may take a few days. Agree to a second time to openly talk and address any questions, doubts and ideas that come to their mind. Then back off and leave it alone, or you will have to start from scratch to build trust all over again.

8. No Cheating: Companies can approach huge conflict and change by allowing restructuring to run its bumpy course without trying to skip or shorten the steps. Only when the ideas have been fully stated, listened to, emotionally reacted to and then reflected on alone and undisturbed, can there be a satisfying resolution.

9. Understand Relationship Dynamics: The key is to understand that you and your co-worker may have different capacities to adjust to change based on the personal and work history experience. When the differences are large, leaders must work harder to keep a work environment balanced. If you are more capable of change, then the responsibility for establishing and maintaining that balance falls on your shoulders.

10. List Your Company’s Priorities: Your company is a separate entity from the individuals who work and sustain it. A wise businessperson will consider the needs of the company by respecting and addressing the needs of its employees. Listing out the priorities can help you see the bigger picture, including any areas that still need work and those that have vastly improved.

A business whose employees cannot adapt will never progress or remain competitive. Ask yourself if you are starving your people of time, energy, resources and laughter. Give your co-workers an opportunity to catch up to wherever you are with modulated talk about change. A successful commitment, as a team, to goals and restructuring will allow you, your co-workers and your company to thrive.

Read other articles and learn more about Dr. Molly Barrow.

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