Don’t let false positivity undermine your change initiative

The corporate world encourages positivity.

That's generally a good thing, especially during workplace change, which sometimes brings unique challenges and concerns.

The danger is when you insist that everyone put their concerns away. No matter how legitimate employees' questions may be, you expect them to keep a sunny disposition—regardless of how they're about the change.

False positivity is toxic in the workplace—leading to employee disengagement and poor morale—especially when a well-intentioned team member raises a valid concern, only to be brushed off as a “negative thinker.”

As a leader, you must balance your organization's goals with your team's needs. Sometimes this means putting yourself in your employees' shoes to gauge your own thoughts and feelings. During change, you need supportive people on your side.

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You've probably heard about the importance of embracing mistakes in business. It's the same with negativity. By embracing negativity, you make it real. Then you can address and solve problems as they arise.

Here are five tips that can help:

  1. Avoid positive spin. Putting a positive spin on things is not taking a positive approach. Rather, it that negativity exists, which can shut down communication with your team. Communicate without misleading. Sometimes you have to address the negative before you can get past it. In a meeting, have a timed discussion of the negative aspects, and then move to positive action, knowing that the negative sentiment might persist.
  1. Ground yourself in facts to offset the emotional aspect. If you find yourself or your team slipping into a negative mindset, ask yourself, “What evidence is there to support this?” Chances are the facts don't support the level of negative feelings.
  1. Be prepared to be unprepared. The longer, the more complex the change, the less you will know what the future holds. As a leader, you should ask tough questions of the right people to get the answers you need. Convey those answers to your team, alleviating their fears (ideally). Sometimes, there are no satisfying answers, and you must prepare for the unknown. It's OK to say, “I don't know.”
  1. Don't label. If people are skeptical about the change, be supportive without deeming them “negative.” Often they just need to have their questions answered so they can engage in the change. Labeling people is no way to gain their support and trust—and it can shut down other team members.
  1. Focus on daily interactions. Although the budgets, frameworks and management plans are important, your day-to-day interactions will make or break your change initiative. Understand that your team members are human, not automatons lacking feelings of fear and doubt. Treating each person like an individual will ease the process.

Gregg Brown is an award-winning change management specialist, a sought after speaker and the author of Ready… Set… Change Again! A version of this post first appeared on his blog.

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