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Navigating Change: How to Break the Deadly 'Cycle of Mutual Dismissal'

Originally published by Ivey Business Journal, November-December 2021

When an organization embarks on a change initiative, diverse viewpoints are key to success. That’s why working to create an environment that treats different perspectives as a catalyst for curiosity, rather than a trigger for conflict, is critical. Unfortunately, the typical change management paradigm creates a dynamic where a small number of individuals (usually more senior) work to figure out the path forward, and then seek to explain and justify it to a larger group of others (often less senior).

When seeking to initiate change, leaders often become frustrated by what they perceive as uninformed resistance when others raise questions or concerns. This leaves individuals on the receiving end of things feeling unheard or disrespected by “clueless leaders” who seem removed from operational reality. As a result, both camps frequently end up talking past one another. Thanks to this “cycle of mutual dismissal,” morale suffers while opportunities for learning are missed, and progress is slowed—if not stymied altogether.

The good news is that this destructive cycle need not derail change efforts. To break it, all concerned must strive to understand and value each other’s perspectives, and work in partnership to make change successful. For leaders, this means being more openminded. Indeed, it is essential to treat everyone involved in any change initiative like they’ve got a clue from the start.

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