Years ago, I pulled into a Target parking lot with my two year-old son after telling him “We’re going to the store.” Suddenly, there was a full-blown kicking and screaming tantrum in the back. I turned around, bewildered by his reaction, only to get nailed in the face with a sippy cup.
Later, it came to me. When I said we’re “going to the store,” he immediately imagined our local grocery store, a safe and familiar place, where he was guaranteed a free cookie and balloon at check-out. “Yay! What fun! Let’s go there!” he must have thought. Only, we arrived at the store with the big red circle on the front and NO free goodies inside. No wonder he threw a fit.
Needless to say, Target was not the outcome he expected, and it took him a while to emotionally adjust to the change. From then on I’ve realized I have to choose my words carefully, and be specific (I still have the scar to remind me!).
How we communicate is just as important as what we communicate
I often think about that day in my “other” job as a communications professional. Words can be so subjective. What’s obvious to one person can mean something different to another. To be effective requires understanding our audience on a deeper level. What’s their vantage point? And how will this news, organizational shift, or change initiative – big or small – impact them at this particular day or time?
This notion of grasping and empathizing with the human element of change is key to effectively managing change.
4 Key Insights For Getting Through Change
1. Don’t let what you know limit what you can imagine
As change agents, it’s our job to help others see the opportunities and outcomes they can’t yet imagine. Try the opposite of deja vu – instead of the unfamiliar suddenly seeming familiar, look at what is familiar and try seeing it as unfamiliar. The act of change is using what you already know to go beyond what you currently think. Seeing the unfamiliar can unleash your ability to imagine a new reality.
2. There are no ‘off the shelf’ solutions
There are many tools and methodologies that guide the change process. These are necessary and relevant, but ‘off the shelf’ tools are really only as good as the people who use them. It’s our ability to see, hear, notice, think, and create ideas that distinguishes us and enables us to achieve real change with lasting positive results.
3. The fish stinks from the head
Without commitment from leaders, real change is doomed to fail. Leaders need to walk the talk, and do it by walking in the shoes of their employees. Big change starts with little connections. Leaders build trust by engaging with people at all levels of the organization and letting them know they are valued. When people believe in their leaders, they believe in what they do, and it translates into improved performance and results.
4. ‘Lean in’ to resistance
Resistance to any change is a given. There’s no need to label naysayers or resisters. Instead, build that relationship by reaching out to them and taking the time to understand their concerns. Every individual has a voice. Let them be heard and invite them to participate in the process. Think of it not as resistance, but as information, and use it to address issues and improve engagement.
Change can seem daunting, de-motivating, or even downright terrifying for many. But seeing people through the process and getting them to the other side of change is also completely gratifying — even without a cookie and balloon!
We’ll see you on the other side.
See our series on change leadership for more on managing change.
Lori joined Blue Beyond in 2013 as a consultant, general practitioner, and content developer. She brings to the team expertise in communication, employee engagement, and nurturing thriving cultures.