How to get skeptics on board with change

Getting skeptics on board with change is very, very hard. Not impossible, but hard.

If someone’s skeptical, it’s probably for one of two reasons:

  1. They weren’t involved with or aware of the change, and they’re blindsided—perhaps unable to even rationally think about it.
  2. They understand the change but don’t agree with (a) why it’s happening or (b) how it’s going to happen.

Your goal as a leader of change should be to prevent people from being in group 1 by getting input beforehand and making them feel they were part of the decision. Group 1 folks need time, and to be genuinely listened to, and engaged respectfully with information and patience. They will then either become supporters or move into Group 2.

Group 2 folks are a different story, and it very much depends on whether they’re in group 2a (don’t agree with the why) or group 2b (don’t agree with the how).

2a people don’t believe things should change. You either haven’t made your case compellingly enough, and need to help them understand what’s at stake, or they have a different vision for the future than you do.

At some point, they need to choose whether they’re on board or not. You need to decide what you expect from them. People who don’t agree with the “why” but have a supportive, trusting attitude can eventually come around. But sometimes these people can be toxic, spreading their dissatisfaction and skepticism.

Give direct feedback, make your expectations clear, and then be prepared to follow through if they’re not willing to get on board.

Group 2b might be called your “willing skeptics.” They agree change is needed but might have different ideas about what needs to change, or when, or how it should happen. Ideally, you’d get their input before the process starts. But the answer here is the same: ask for their trust, and reassure them that if what you’re doing won’t work, you’ll do something different for the good of the company—and you will always remain receptive to their ideas.

See if you can find anything at all to validate their concerns and ideas. If not, it’s the same playbook: listen well, make your expectations clear, and follow through.

This is all messier in practice than it looks written out. Most of this can be avoided by genuinely involving people in change before it starts.

Overcoming skepticism towards change demands empathy, clear communication, and a proactive approach to addressing concerns. By engaging both individuals unaware of the change and those questioning its rationale or execution, leaders can foster understanding, build trust, and steer the organization towards successful adaptation and growth.

Contact us today to learn more.

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