How To Help People Embrace Change

Mike Pelfini — 25 October 2015

Communication is critical during change, but if you communicate outside of someone’s mode of preference, you can actually make things worse.

​Why do some people cringe when confronted with change while others seem almost attracted to it?  Brain research shows that everyone has preferred ways to take in and process information. [1]  These different thinking styles affect the way we communicate, make decisions, solve problems, and how we handle change.  ​

When asking people to accommodate changes at work, seek first to understand the thinking lens that they’ll be reacting through.  Then, it’s important to answer the kinds of questions and concerns that will matter to them most.

Ann Herrmann-Nehdi is CEO of Herrmann International and an internationally recognized thought leader on applying what we know about the brain to improve business performance.  In the recently updated edition of her father’s ground-breaking The Whole Brain Business Book, she cautions that “Communication is critical during change, but if you communicate outside of someone’s mode of preference, you can actually make things worse.” [2]  Fortunately, by taking a Whole Brain®  approach and considering each thinking mode, you can minimize potential discomfort with change while providing both the context and detail to keep people from making assumptions about what the change really means.

Very early in my career as a CEO I was called on to develop what became a huge reorganization plan for our company.  The plan affected every major function and operation including finance, services, employee benefits, facilities management, and governance.  It was a brutal first-time experience for me to have to lead, but I learned some fundamental leadership lessons from having worked through it! (Note: Probably the hardest part was being the one person accountable for precipitating the changes we needed to make and leading the effort to communicate and implement them.  From that standpoint, it was quite an isolating, though positively formative experience for me to have as a leader.)  It required people to accommodate big changes in their work.  Rolling out the change plan would have been an easier exercise–yielding much less upset and creating support and alignment much more quickly–had I incorporated the Whole Brain® Model (Figure 1-1) in developing the communication strategy, and following 3 simple steps:

  1. Familiarize  Acknowledge and understand the diversity of thinking styles represented among those affected by the changes. And there will be a diversity of styles.  As George S. Patton once observed, If everyone is thinking alike then somebody isn’t thinking.
  2. Walk Around – Consider the kinds of concerns and questions on which each thinking style would be focused.  Put another way, simply walk around the quadrants that depict each thinking style and consider what kinds of concerns each style might have with change.
  3. Customize – Incorporate or package information in a way that will meaningfully address these concerns authentically, transparently, and directly.

For example, for those who have strong A/B quadrant thinking, there would most likely be greater concern with the bottom line and financial implications of the change.  What’s the logic behind the decision?  What’s the track record for this kind of change?  What are the risks to me?  Are there references I can talk to?

People with more C/D quadrant thinking preferences would tend to be concerned with the emotional impact of the change, or perhaps how the change would fit into the big picture.  How is this going to affect my future?  What are the implications for our customers?  Who will be available to listen to my concerns?

You can advance the cause of getting people on board with the changes they’ll be facing by following these 3 simple steps.  This will help gain understanding and buy-in for the changes you’re proposing to make.  It will go a long way in creating the kind of alignment and support needed for the enterprise to benefit from what will become positive and transformative levels of achievement.

[1] R. W. Sperry, “Bridging Science and Values: A Unifying View of Mind and Brain,: American Psychologist  32, n. 4 (1977).  R. E. Ornstein, The Psychology of Consciousness (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1977).  P. D. MacLean and V. A. Kral, A Triune Concept of the Brain and Behaviour (Toranto: published of the Ontario Mental Health Foundation by University of Toronto Press, 1973). Ned Herrmann and Ann Herrmann-Mehdi, The Whole Brain Business Book (New York: McGraw-Hil l Education, 1996, 2015)

[2] Ned Herrmann and Ann Herrmann-Nehdi, The Whole Brain Business Book (New York: McGraw-Hill Education, 1996, 2015)

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