The more rigid the employee, the more gently to introduce change…

It was on 5:45am and 4 degrees when I left for my yoga class. Chilled to the bone, the frigid air washed away my drowsiness. I was looking forward to quickly forging into deep stretches easing my tense and tight muscles. You can imagine my disappointment when my instructor Jennifer’s first words were, “We will work slowly and gently this morning, making sure we don’t push too far too quickly.  We want to avoid injuries.”

While it wasn’t what I wanted to hear, my inner voice spoke to me.  “This is what Ralph must have felt yesterday when he wanted to fire Suresh and I urged Ralph to slow down.”

Ralph had come to me complaining about one of his most knowledgeable employees, Suresh.  According to Ralph, Suresh doesn’t share information, doesn’t speak up in meetings, and doesn’t respond to emails.  When Suresh does finally respond it is because he has been prodded relentlessly.   At those times his responses are often curt leaving his colleagues with more questions than answers.  Everyone is frustrated and upset with the situation.

Plant the seeds of change and let the rigid employee grow into them slowly.

Plant the seeds of change and let the rigid employee grow into them slowly.

Ralph came to me asking that I tell Suresh how unprofessional his work style was to the group.  Ralph expected me to convey these messages and for Suresh’s work style to change immediately, or else!

While I applaud Ralph for noticing these issues and expecting a more collaborative approach for his department, Ralph’s approach will greatly impact Suresh’s willingness and ability to change.  I’m not sure if the “or else” was intended for me or for Suresh!

Often, as in Ralph’s case, when we notice that change is needed we are incredibly upset and frustrated. Regardless of whether it is change that is needed in our bodies, in our behaviors, or in the behaviors of those we work with, when we seek change too quickly, it often backfires. Change is a long and steady process.   It involves many steps forward and hopefully fewer steps back.

Just as we are likely to injure our bodies if we try to change too quickly, it is likely that we will injure our work relationships when we expect immediate change from those around us.

Think of a time when you helped someone at work change.  How did you help them?  How long did it take?

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2 Comments
  • I can totally relate to this situation. I’ve seen it play out in both my professional life and in my personal life.
    At work, I’ve experienced people who were seriously stuck in a singular opinion or behavior start to make a shift when I eased into it. I learned quickly that when I tried a hard push, I got nowhere. The key in that situation was to ask questions and listen deeply.

  • Great article. It is incredibly hard to get someone to see they need to change. I think it’s interesting that Ralph wanted you to do it rather than doing it himself.

    Thanks for sharing this thought-provoking posting.

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