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05 Jun 2016

What happens if someone won’t change?

by Melanie Franklin

Asking people to change how they work can have lots of consequences but the most difficult is the flat refusal.

I had to deal with this recently. I will give you the bare details to protect those involved but I learnt things that are worth sharing.

As part of the change, a swift decision had to be taken about clearing out some data and using a different set of calculations. This specific change was upsetting because it came near the end of a long and tiring week. It was not negotiable and we just had to get it done. We all started making the system changes except for one of our 6 team members. She stood up and said she wasn’t doing it, it wasn’t necessary, other implementations hadn’t required it and again said she wasn’t doing it.

Now we know that effective change involves emotional intelligence. So the key thing to note was not what she said but how she said it. As she spoke she became increasingly agitated. Her voice went up an octave, she was waving her hands in the air. This all tells us that her words are not about the work but her feeling that this was a step too far and that she couldn’t cope.

Unfortunately a couple of the team who were just getting on with things told her to stop complaining and get it done, which of course added fuel to the fire (but let’s be honest, it’s a tempting response when you are tired yourself and just want to get finished and go home).

Anyway, my learning point was about the need to allow the person time to get their composure back. Although you will lose time I think there is no chance that the person will come onboard unless:
1. They are listened to. Active listening, quietly hearing out their concerns until the emotion is spent is essential.
2. Helping them break down the task into little steps so that the first task is very simple enables them to start making a contribution (which calms the rest of the team who are being affected by the outburst). One thing that is certain, an emotionally distressed person at the end of their tether will find it hard to objectively break the task down. You have to step in and help them, don’t leave them to flounder otherwise you have lost any help they might be able to give.
3. Help them get over their embarrassment or discomfort. Emotional outbursts at work are rare and afterwards everyone feels a little uncomfortable. Find a neutral conversation, probably not connected to the work. Avoid talking about deadlines or how late we are now running.

In all of this lead by example. If you remain calm then other team members will hopefully stop themselves from criticising their colleague (at least out loud). After all, least said soonest mended.

Good luck with your change, and remember it’s always like this!

Melanie Franklin
5th June 2016