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Kill ’em With Kindness

‘Be Excellent to One Another!’

We spend a lot of time here and with clients talking about how hard the human factors are to contend with when rethinking content and process management, but one simple recommendation often seems to fall through the cracks: namely, to be as civil and constructive as you can be at all times!

Kill them with kindness, in other words.

As creatures, human beings tend to be instinctively territorial and defensive when riled up – and nothing riles an information professional more than having to modify some deep-set habits! While this reaction may be useful when fending off an invading tribe or a hungry saber-toothed tiger, it greatly complicates any effort to affect organizational change. Left unchecked, it can lead to demands rather than questions, selective communication rather than full collaboration, and the propagation of frantic untruths rather than considered commentary.

Here’s one benign example just to make the point:

    A recent effort to modify a hotel reservation led me to an individual who flatly told me to call back later and speak to reservations – no please, no thank you, not even an acknowledgment that she was reservations! After a soft response or two on my part, she eventually acknowledged that she was simply overwhelmed by the long line of guests awaiting her at the front desk, and just couldn’t handle another thing. (No apology, though, but that’s beside the point.)
    Had she only been honest up front, my take on the experience would have been wholly different; instead, her lack of civility antagonized me and the people in the queue who overheard her, and undoubtedly made her day a whole lot harder than it had to be. Perhaps most frustrating, though, was that her petulance really went for nothing, for both she and I both knew that, at the end of the day, the change I was pursuing would come to pass whether she fought it or not.

Why am I telling you this? Because we see the same kind of resistance in all kinds of professional scenarios: when soliciting input from end users about how they manage information, building bridges between organizational lines of business and IT, reshaping association leadership councils … in short, anyplace someone is being asked to let go of an ingrained way of thinking.

The trick here is to maintain an even keel as best you can, be polite and constructive, and keep your eye on the bigger picture – even if your counterparts are not. Explain the reasons for the exercise as calmly as you can, reinforce them at every turn, and follow your plan to the letter so as not to leave room for misinterpretation.

Just be civil about it, for even a little will go a long way.

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