Navigating change – whether it’s a wholesale realignment of company practices and behaviors, or agreeing on new Terms & Conditions with a supplier or client – can feel like a minefield. A particularly unyielding employee, a supplier with a thousand arguments against your plan, or an overly demanding client can make it especially difficult.
And the bigger the change, the bigger the minefield. Tension builds. Apprehension and arguments abound. Misunderstandings develop.
What do you do? Paste a plastic smile on your face, tell everybody it’ll all be fine (just trust me), and move forward? Fire the employee and find another supplier?
We’ve found inspiration in the Way of Tea.
Originating in China, tea traditions have developed in many countries – and they have plenty to teach us about leading and working with people.
You don’t just sit down and start drinking tea. The tea must be prepared. And to prepare tea, what do we do first?
We boil water.
We bring the water to the right temperature, in a controlled setting.
In navigating change, that can mean knowingly allowing things to get complicated, knowingly allowing some tension to build. Bringing the water to a boil. That churning, boiling water is necessary to good tea, and to a good change process. Questions need to be asked, challenges need to be posed.
And then we let that teapot whistle a bit. As the tension builds, we – safely – let off steam. We allow for venting.
We’ve noticed that when an idea’s worst critics are finally convinced of its merits, they become its most powerful advocates. When people really wrestle with an idea – a change – they have a deeper connection to it. Allowing – in fact encouraging – people to raise their objections and vent their frustrations, and openly discussing them in a non-threatening way, can help ensure that the tea you’re making is richer and more satisfying.
And allowing for venting gives you the heads-up about where the stress points are, what the questions are, what the challenges will be. You want those brought out into the open so they can be studied, recognized, incorporated into your planning – or acknowledged and shelved, if appropriate.
Your own venting can be important as well. As consultants, sometimes our role is to provide that controlled setting for the Changemaker in Chief to vent, to help his or her own thinking process. We’ve been told, “I know sometimes if I just talk to you it helps me deal with it, and I don’t have to do anything else.” Exactly.
Once the water has boiled and the steam has been vented, you’re ready – and we can all sit down together and have tea.
There are more Lessons from the Way of Tea. Watch this space for Part 2!