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Addressing Resistance to Change… Even Better than Ted Lasso

I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a huge Ted Lasso fan. Humanity. Kindness. Hope. Humor. It’s what life is all about. Add to that the occasional wisdom that’s dispensed, and it’s always an hour well-spent. Take the recent episode when Ted and the coaching team introduced an audacious new strategy that was met with skepticism from the players. When they voiced their concerns, Ted’s response was, “Hush your butts.” Normally, I only misunderstand the characters speaking with an English accent. In this case, however, I misinterpreted even American English as I heard, “Hush your buts.” I thought that Ted – in his quirky way – was encouraging the team to suspend judgement, set aside reservations, and step out of their comfort zone.

I likely heard the one rather than two ‘t’ version of the word because of the proliferation of ‘buts’ in today’s workplace. Given current levels of stress, anxiety, and burnout as well as the fast pace of change, and the cascade of game-changing (not to mention job-changing) AI technologies, many leaders report greater push-back on the part of employees. Their ‘buts’ are expressed not just with the 3-letter word but with action – and in many cases, inaction.

You’ve likely seen this play out as:

  • Rationales for why ‘we’ve always done it this way’
  • Myopic focus on challenges
  • Constructing or inventing roadblocks
  • Head-nodding in public followed by resistance in private

These many forms of ‘but’ that represent resistance to necessary changes are dangerous to individual engagement, team performance, organizational culture, and ultimately business results. That’s why savvy leaders use a range of strategies to engage with others in a way that allows them to address their concerns and hush some of the negativity associated with change.

And you can too.

  1. Anticipate reactions. Changes naturally evoke reactions. So, don’t be caught off guard. Think through in advance possible concerns, issues, and fears that others might experience. Step into their shoes so you can be prepared to empathize and better understand the responses you may encounter.
  2. Welcome the pushback. I hate to contradict Ted Lasso, but maybe we don’t want to ‘hush’ it but rather hold space for ‘but’. Instead of shutting it down, let others know you welcome the conversations – even the hard and possibly contentious ones. Keep the door open to dialogue, because as long as they’re talking to you, you have the opportunity to influence their thinking.
  3. Make it safe. Work diligently to avoid inadvertently judging, disapproving, or punishing those who share their ‘buts’. Instead, frame the candor of others as courageous and evidence of their deep commitment to the team and its success.
  4. Play out the problems. Demonstrate that you take the concerns seriously, In fact, add to the list of issues by brainstorming all the possible ‘buts’. Once they’re on the table, you can facilitate conversation about how to address each.
  5. Express appreciation – Encourage constructive ‘butting’ by recognizing those who raise issues. Draw special attention to productive behaviors like candor, transparency, sharing concrete examples, and creative problem-solving. This sends a clear signal about what you value and will encourage more of these behaviors in the future.

In today’s workplace, we need as many minds as possible working together to solve problems, leverage opportunities, meet customer needs, and deliver stakeholder value. Now is not the time to hush any part of the employee… but rather help others release fears, entertain possibilities, and embrace the unknown. Because when we harness the energy that presents itself in the form of ‘buts’ we can forge stronger performance, relationships, and results.

This post originally appeared on SmartBrief.