June 6, 2016

Change creates a mixture of anticipation, anxiety, uncertainty, dread, eagerness and fear.

There is something important about these feelings. The words describe not the change itself, but how people typically feel when faced with change. Leading change is a matter of leading people. Here are some typical emotions you may feel when chance is announced and how you can manage your responses and guide those around you.

If you want to appear excited and charged up in the midst of a change:

  • Casually use positive words about it in informal settings, such as, “I think it’s a pretty decent idea.” Or, “looks like it has potential. We just need to work the bugs out.”
  • Volunteer to help with an initial task, and allow others to learn you are working on it.
  • Look excited: Use good eye contact and body posture, and smile and look happy and focused when you are working on the new initiative.
  • Don’t allow people to interrupt you when you are working on the new initiative. Tell them you need to finish what you are doing and will call them/find them afterward.
  • Bring up in conversation what you like about the new project and why.

To appear to others to be interested and reasonable but also a little skeptical:

  • When change is announced, ask clarifying questions in a neutral or positive tone, such as, “Could you explain in a little more detail…” or “I’m intrigued but I’d like to understand this one point a little better…” Mind the tone of your question and your tone of voice.
  • The day after an announcement, comment to some colleagues or a supervisor that you had thought overnight how this new project would play out, and wondered if people leading the initiative had thought about “this” potential hurdle and “that” potential benefit, then go find out the answer. Take it further by simply stating that you are interested in seeing this initiative succeed.

If you want to do more to toe the company line, it’s probably the case that you have sat in the skeptic or naysayer camps in the past, and now you want to begin altering your image or position.

  • This time, say nothing negative. When the topic comes up, have an open, relaxed body posture and an engaged look on your face.
  • Ask your supervisor a fair question about the new goal or vision, to demonstrate honest interest.
  • Try a bit of self-deprecation with colleagues or your boss: “Hey, even I can see the reasons for this new direction.” “What could I – and sorry to surprise you here – but what could I do to help?”

If you think you want to avidly critique the new vision (even fairly) with anyone who wants to discuss it, first recognize that this isn’t always a good idea. Chattering too much about a change can appear to your managers as an attempt to blow on embers of dissent, even if that’s not your intent. If you genuinely want to critique a new vision or goal as fairly as possible, you could:

  • Choose whether or when to join water-cooler discussions, and when to leave. You could also choose to listen without stating your own opinion. Or you could play a role in moderating a discussion by seeking out opinions that differ from those of the most vocal speakers: “What’s another side here? Let’s try to listen to each other.”
  • Use non-incendiary language. “Let’s keep this below 100 decibels, folks.” “Reasonable people can disagree.”

If you want to listen to others’ opinions before deciding what you think:

  • First consider your sources. Do they know what they’re talking about?
  • Use neutral language to ask open-ended questions of people who are likely to have different perspectives: “What led to you think that?” “What pros and cons do you see?” “How would you react to this thought about the new goal?”
  • Ask your supervisor if a staff Q&A or brainstorming session would be possible. Explain that a public airing might turn up some negatives, but also some potential solutions to problems, as well as some positives.
  • If no Q&A is going to happen, you could ask someone privy to company information to reply personally or in writing to questions you need to have answered.

Taken from Managing Change: Creating Strategies, Setting Priorities, a self-directed course by Elaine Kramer at Poynter NewsU.

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Vicki Krueger has worked with The Poynter Institute for more than 20 years in roles from editor to director of interactive learning and her current…
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