In managing change, avoid these 6 detrimental phrases

This dirty half-dozen utterances can undermine staffers’ trust in the process—and in you as a leader. Along with these taboos are alternatives to help foster dialogue and ease the transition.

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Change happens.

Although the concept of change might be exciting, its execution can be challenging.

Change is a complex process with many variables and moving parts—your workforce being a crucial component. You might have the best change management strategy in place, but if you unintentionally alienate those involved, it will fail.

A strategy that promotes open, clear and transparent communication among all parties is essential to the success of any major change. As a leader, you must initiate and manage the conversation and balance your team’s concerns with the direction your organization will take. This doesn’t necessarily mean making concessions, but you must keep the dialogue going.

Studies have shown that 60 to 70 percent of change initiatives don’t succeed as expected, largely due to lack of staff engagement and accountability on the part of management.

How can you increase employee engagement and improve the likelihood of a successful change? Here are six phrases to avoid, as well as better alternatives:

1. Don’t say: “This will be easy.”

Even if your staffers recognize the need for change, it’s rarely easy. If people resist, the job becomes even harder. In either case, saying change will be easy might meet with skepticism. You’re privy to information that your workers lack, so your perspective is different from theirs. By saying change will be easy, you could come across as naïve, misinformed or disconnected from their concerns.

Do say: “It’ll be a challenge, but we’ll get through it.”

Your people will appreciate your honesty and transparency, as well as your assurance that the pain will be temporary. Provide support, and listen to any concerns they might have.

2. Don’t say: “Don’t worry about it. Everything will be fine.”

They might think, “How do you know?” Sure, we hope that everything will be fine, but who knows what problems might arise? The longer and more complex the initiative, the harder it is to predict the outcome.

Do say: “Here’s how we’ll get through the change process.”

Map out how you’ll handle risks and uncertainties. By involving your employees, you’ll be able to manage expectations as the plan is implemented. They’ll feel more confident knowing that you have a plan to deal with any contingency.

3. Don’t say: “You need to get on the train.”

This could create resentment and strengthen the naysayers’ resistance. You might even convert some believers into non-believers. People don’t have to get on any “train.” Everyone has a choice. You could put the most innovative systems, supports and accountability measures in place, but your people will decide for themselves whether to embrace the change.

Do say: “I want to hear your concerns.”

This demonstrates a willingness to engage with your staff and offers an opportunity to coach and support them to resolve their reservations. If you can’t ease every worry, at least they will appreciate your openness.

4. Don’t say: “These are all the positive reasons you should go along with this change.”

“Positive” is a subjective term. If your “positive” seems like a negative to your staff, implementing the change will be that much harder.

Do say: “Here’s why we’re making this change, and here is the impact.”

Openly discuss the positive aspects, and address any concerns. Providing a balanced approach builds trust and shows that you grasp the reality of the change—good or bad.

5. Don’t say: “Trust me.”

Trust comes through action and information, not through a plea or imperative. That might suggest you have something to hide.

Do say: “Is there anything I can do to help you manage the change?”

Offer open, honest conversation so your people can develop trust in you and in the process ahead.

6. Don’t say: “We are going to find efficiencies.”

This gets translated to “job losses”—especially if you’re not clear about you mean by “finding efficiencies.” Specify how the change will affect people and what the collateral effects might be.

We tend to use cushy words to soften the blow of what’s really going on—but they muddy the message. Whether or not job losses are ahead, you’ll be creating a climate of fear, doubt and uncertainty, which no one wants, and the resistance will get even stronger.

Do say: “Here are the inefficiencies we’re looking to solve.”

Be completely clear about what this means, identifying which inefficiencies the change will solve, as well which efficiencies won’t be affected. Your people will appreciate your candor.

Gregg Brown is the author of Ready… Set… Change Again! A version of this post first appeared on his blog.

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