You could feel the tension when you walked into the room. The staff had heard negative rumors about the new manager and their guard was up. They were skeptical and suspicious about change being positive. They had a great respect for their previous boss. To say they weren’t happy about the new manager would be an understatement.
Acknowledge what other’s are thinking
Instead of ignoring the staff’s concerns and pretending the skepticism didn’t exist, the Director acknowledged it. Before providing information about the new manager, she said out loud what most were thinking:
- Things won’t be the same
- Your previous manager was outstanding
- He will be missed
As the Director said these statements, heads began to nod and faces relaxed with the validation of their grief.
Grief isn’t just when people die
You may think grief doesn’t happen in the work culture – it does. When people have worked together for years and have a good rapport, any disruption in this bond is a loss. Besides the actual person, there is the connection to their personal lives as well as the familiarity of knowing what to expect.
The Director encouraged the staff to talk about what their previous manager meant to them and how he would be missed. And then she did something unique. She said “I know you have heard negative things about your new manager. Before we address your concerns, can we all agree to three assumptions?”
The Three Assumptions are:
- Can we assume we all want to serve the greater good, until proven otherwise?
- Given the above assumption, we therefore assume that none of us has any hidden agenda, until proven otherwise?
- Given the above assumption, we therefore assume that we are all reasonable even when we disagree, until proven otherwise.*
By now you could hear a pin drop in the room. Tension was replaced with understanding as the staff’s grief was acknowledged by their Director. The acknowledgement that change was hard, the positive impact of the previous manager, and at the same time, we are moving forward.
Everyone agreed to the three assumptions and the meeting continued with a productive conversation. Even though they still didn’t like the change and some disagreed with the new direction, the three assumptions gave a foundation to talk about the change in a positive manner.
At your next staff meeting, make the Conscious Choice to introduce The Three Assumptions – it could mean the difference between conflict and collaboration.
*Chade-Meng Tan, Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path To Achieving Success, Happiness, (And World Peace), (New York: HarperCollins, 2012)