Be afraid, be very afraid.

Fear often gets in the way of progress in the workplace. This fear is apparent in a number of situations; we are afraid to:

  • disagree out loud in a meeting (or with the boss)
  • stop doing low-value work (or take on highly visible tasks)
  • decide (or go public with decisions)

Fear does keep us from doing, or saying, something stupid and that’s good … even at work. But if you are managing a team, directing a department, or leading a project, your job requires you to make people angry. You are paid to make decisions that will not be popular. Furthermore, it is your job to talk to those who are angered by the decisions.

In my humble opinion, the fear of making people angry is rampant. Time and again, on the brink of a positive result, decision makers get cold feet because those involved or affected might not like what they are about to find out. What contribution do you make if you limit yourself to choices that are acceptable to 100% of stakeholders?

So instead of fear, what?

  • Expect disagreement and provide an early forum for it. Use all of the options in your communication toolbox to tease out negative feedback early on (e.g., feedback forms, blogs, focus groups, etc.)
  • Be realistic. You will hear from those who don’t like whatever it is, but usually in much smaller numbers than you are imagining.
  • Talk one-on-one with a few individuals who represent those mostly likely to be opposed. Their responses and concerns will help you prepare for broader communication because you’ll more accurately identify the controversial issues.
  • Enlist your supporters. Ask those who agree with you to participate in feedback forums. Those who like a decision are frequently silent, or at least quieter than the opposition. But, if asked, supporters will step in to even out the discussion.
  • Use the phone. Calling an individual who sends you an angry email message will work 99.99% of the time. My total count of times this hasn’t worked is two.

Be afraid that every decision you make will be liked by all. Be very afraid of that.

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Author: susantevans

Susan T. Evans is director of corporate and foundations relations at the College of William & Mary. She is a proven strategic leader with deep expertise in advancement, communications, brand management, marketing, digital strategy, technology, administration and organizational development. She is known for creative and strategic approaches to challenges within higher education, nonprofits and business.

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