Just Because you said it, doesn’t mean they got it

By Gale Mote / Guest Editorial

Over the past few months, I have been working with an organization making the transition to high-performance work teams. Leadership has been consistent and persistent in sharing the vision, the reasons for change, the benefits, the challenges and keeping the door open for robust dialogue and questions.

So why is it that the same questions keep getting asked over and over again? Why are employees complaining and stressing over the same issues where a solution has already been provided? Weren’t they in the meeting? Didn’t they read the memo? What part of “get on with it” don’t they understand?

In my training world, I know adults need to hear something six times in six different ways for recall. Recall, however, does not ensure application. Participants need to have the opportunity to practice new skills to build their confidence and receive ongoing support from their peers and management when they leave the classroom. Repetitive use of the skill in a realistic work environment, with coaching, leads to changes in life and work habits.

The same can be said for communication; just because you said it, doesn’t mean they got it. I believe there are several reasons why we have a failure to communicate, especially when engaging in dramatic cultural change.

“I didn’t like your answer, so I’m going to keep asking the question.”

This reminds me of the little child who covers both ears, throws a tantrum and says, “I’m not listening, I’m not listening.” It reflects a lack of buy-in and commitment. The key is to find out the source of the resistance. Don’t ask, “why don’t you like the new system?” It is never a good idea to put another person on the defensive. Rather, consider, “tell me what you appreciate most about the current system.” In the dialogue, you will discover what a person may be afraid of losing moving from the old to the new. Once you find common ground, it is easier to build a bridge where others see value in what you are proposing.

“I didn’t understand your response and now I’m more confused than ever.”

I have to admit that when I listen to some leaders communicate, I don’t understand them, either. Keep it concise, keep it simple. If you don’t know the answer, say so. Don’t dance around the issue, say what needs to be said. Tell realistic stories and give specific examples. Speak their language, not yours.

“I couldn’t connect with what you said. It made absolutely no sense to me.”

Put yourself in your employee’s shoes. If you were them, what would you be thinking about this whole thing? What are the top three things you would want to know to help you be successful in making the transition? You need to meet people where they are and take them with you. Demonstrate respect for who they are, what they know and what they have accomplished.

“I have no trust in you or what you say. I don’t believe you.”

Perhaps this is the biggest reason for the lack of buy-in and also the most difficult to resolve. Trust is the foundation of all positive and productive relationships. If you don’t believe in the messenger, you won’t believe the message. The best way to earn your employees trust is to be real, authentic, honest, fair, accountable and keep your commitments. When you need to rebuild trust (and believe me, I’ve had to do this from experience) you need to reach out first, be the bigger person, apologize, ask for forgiveness, clarify expectations and walk the talk. It is important to periodically check in on the relationship because it is easier to change your behavior than someone’s perception of your behavior.

“I’m afraid and don’t want others to see my fear so I’ll hang on tight to what I know and keep hoping that if I dig in my heels, we’ll go back to the way it was!”

In their book, “First Break All the Rules,” Gallup Corporation shared the belief that success on one rung of the corporate ladder does not guarantee success on another rung. Just because you are a great engineer doesn’t mean you will be a great engineering manager. The same is true for change. People are afraid (and at times with good reason) they will not be successful in the new system because they do not have the necessary skills, knowledge and experience. It is important to provide the training, coaching, mentoring and support necessary to be successful with the new change. Help people to see that they are not in this alone.

In reality, there are some people who won’t be able to make the transition. The skills and/or attitude gap is too big to overcome. Best case is to find a different role where the employee can be successful. When you can’t find a different job, it is important to part ways and offer appropriate outsourcing support. These are not bad people. They just don’t fit any more. I remember a dear friend who once told me, “Don’t let those who don’t get it and won’t get it stay.”

Just because you said it, doesn’t mean they got it. If you are hearing the same questions over and over or sense a growing level of resistance, don’t keep repeating the same message. Ask yourself some questions and see how to alter the message to better connect and address the real needs and concerns of those who need to understand it the most.



Gale Mote is a trainer, organizational development catalyst and coach in Cedar Rapids. Contact her at galemote@galemoteassociates.com.