“But that’s how we’ve always done it around here!” Heard that before? Have you been on the receiving end of this telltale sign that your new ideas are being resisted and that your teammates are retrenching into what is familiar and known? I received an email from someone asking me for help with the right words to say when a teammate resists change.

When your attempt to inject some new blood results in a bad match, try these responses to open up the dialogue and to encourage more innovative thinking.

Ask, Listen, Understand

If your first response to “that’s how we do it around here” is “not anymore, sista’” you’re sure to create resistance that will threaten your ability to introduce change. Go the opposite route; be curious and interested and demonstrate your willingness to hear and understand the current practices. Try:

“Tell me more about the approach that you use.”

“How did that approach evolve? How long has it been done that way?”

“Where in the organization is that process used?”

Separate Baby from Bathwater

Dumping the existing practices wholesale is uncalled-for in most situations. Instead, use some good investigative skills to determine what’s working and what needs to change.

“What’s working well in the current way we do it?” (Get that “we” in there to show you think of yourself as part of the team–friend, not foe.)

“What feedback have you heard from our customers/suppliers/partners about this approach?”

“If you could enhance one part of the process, where would you start?”

Enlist Support

Change isn’t all about listening and understanding: at some point you need to go for the close. If you think the person is ready, try to get them onside:

“Your understanding of this will be really important as we evolve the process. Can I call on you to provide advice as we go?”

“I sense that you’re concerned that too radical a change could affect our productivity. May I ask for your help to change this carefully over several months?”

“I have a much better sense of this issue now. Can you continue to be my reality check if there’s something I need to be aware of?”

People cling to existing ways of doing things because they are comfortable. Change disrupts one’s sense of control, competence, and credibility. So when you hear the old chestnut “but that’s how we’ve always done it around here,” have some empathy, ask some good questions, and make the person feel like an important part of the solution, rather than part of problem.

Those are the right words to say when someone resists change.

[Fun fact: I looked up the origins of the expression “don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. We’re all familiar with this adage not to discard something valuable when over-zealously ridding ourselves of something useless, but where does it come from? Turns out it comes from the German expression das Kind mit dem Bade ausschütten, and dates from 1512 when it was first used by author Thomas Murner. Read more on Wikipedia.]

Further Reading

Talent Management Shenanigans

After the Offsite: How do we Sustain Positive Changes Back in the Real World?

Exercise: Exposing Reactions to Change

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