Workplace Change: How to Turn Objections Into Objectives

Good people resist change for lots of reasons.

Perhaps they’re comfortable with the way things are. Perhaps they feel threatened. Perhaps they think the new way won’t work.

As a leader, how do you respond? If you try to “sell” change, your people will feel, well, sold. And if you simply demand change, you get reluctant participation at best.

So what’s the right answer when it comes to getting employees on board when its time for your organization to make big changes?

How to disarm the resistance

Traditional thinking would say to be prepared for every possible objection employees might raise, and have counterarguments ready. That might occasionally work, but usually it’ll turn into the world’s worst game of ping-pong.

An employee raises an objection, you counter. Someone else brings another objection, you have another counter argument. Objection. Counter. Objection. Counter. And, so on and so on until you just force employees to comply.

So efforts to “counter” objections usually backfire. Instead, they tend to create more resistance. Furthermore, that endless volley can obscure the fact that employees who object are illustrating all the reasons your change initiative might fail.

That’s why objections are something to be studied, not rebutted: They tell you what still needs to be fixed.

So instead of a verbal table tennis match, let’s look at a three-step method to disarm employee resistance to change, and get people on board for new initiatives:

Step 1: Embrace the objection

Remember, employees are expecting you to respond with a counter argument. They’re prepared for a defensive response.

But if you instead acknowledge and take seriously what employees are saying, it can have a disarming effect on them. As a result, they let their guard down, allowing you to have an actual discussion about their concerns.

Step 2: Turn the objections into objectives

What does that look like?

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Here’s the basic formula: An employee’s objection sounds like this — “This change won’t succeed because of X.” But you, the change leader, reframe the objection as an objective, so that it now sounds like — “In order for this change to succeed, we need to address X.”

See the difference? It’s subtle, but it makes all the difference in the world.

Reframing an objection as an objective works because instead of countering – which places you and the complaining employees on opposite sides of an argument – it creates a goal, something for both parties to work toward achieving.

Step 3: Gain commitment

Now that you have come up with an objective for everyone involved to work toward, get them on board with the new plan of action.

Ask for help. This final step solidifies the notion that employees had their concerns heard, and that there’s a plan in place to deal with their concerns while still moving forward with the desired change.

Even after you’ve completed the three steps, there’s still plenty of work to be done. But the key point is that employees no longer resist the change.

To be sure, you won’t be able to turn every objection into an objective. And some people may dig in their heels no matter what, so be ready to use your positional authority to get everyone on board as a last resort.

But by working with employees to make the change happen, instead of arguing with them, you’ve already taken a big step forward.

Dave Clemens has spent years consulting with HR professionals, researching developing trends, and tracking employment case law. His HR Café blog is read by 14,000+ subscribers, and he is a senior writer for the Compliance & Management Rapid Learning Center online training site. You can also connect with Dave on Twitter.

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