We’ve always done it this way…annoying defenders of the status quo

If you’ve ever tried to implement a change it’s likely you’ve heard “but we’ve always done it this way” or “we tried that, and it didn’t work” or, worse, “that’s impossible.” 

As a leader you know continuous assessment and improvement are the keys to competitive advantage, but how can you get reluctant team members to buy-in? 

Challenge thinking gently

The last thing you want to do is make someone more defensive. Disregarding the comment or challenging it outright can lead the speaker to feel disrespected, increasing strong emotions and decreasing rational thought. It can also lead the person to stop giving input and decrease trust within the team. 

Ask important questions

You need to understand why the person is clinging to their viewpoint and get them to open up, not shut down. Gently influence the person to think more broadly by asking what the benefits are of keeping things the same. Conversely, explore what risks are involved with making a change. This benefit risk analysis helps you and the person who is resistant to change to get real data on the table. Without this input, people are more likely to argue beliefs and feelings and become more entrenched. 

Practice active curiosity and deep listening

You’re not asking these questions to line up your best arguments to refute the person’s thinking. You should genuinely want to hear what they have to tell you. Sometimes the way things are being done have benefits like time or cost savings that should be factored into a change or serious downsides that you may not have considered. Even if the change initiative is already set, listening shows you care and helps decrease resistance.

Capture pertinent information

If the change is not yet implemented, write out the benefits and risks you are exploring where everyone in the team can see them. This shows you are actively listening and that this information is important—because it is. It demonstrates respect, captures information you can reflect on and review in the future, and provides the team a visual format promoting brainstorming and problem solving. 

Explore other options

Now that you’ve taken time to listen and to capture benefits and risks for maintaining the current system or process, do the same for other options including the one you may be promoting. Once everything has been put on the table, ask if there is another way. Finding a third option that blends the best of the first two can move people away from either/or thinking, demonstrate putting outcome before egos, and build team collaboration. 

Reward honesty

Be sure to take the time to thank those who openly opposed you. Highlight how that honesty (and, frankly, courage) led to a better result or relationship among the team. This builds trust among team members to act vulnerably—decreasing politics and increasing team cohesion. 


This process doesn’t have to take a long time. Even 10 minutes of listening, asking questions, and capturing information can make a huge difference. In my many years of working with organizations to improve communication and manage conflict, I have never heard someone say, “my leader listens to me too much.” Quite the opposite. Taking time to listen and understand can build relationship, trust, buy-in, accountability, and keep you from being blindsided.

Bobbie L. Dillon, MS, is a Conflict Management Specialist who works with individuals and organizations to help them use effective communication and constructive conflict to reach their goals. Learn more at BobbieDillon.com

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