You’ve probably watched a heckler interrupt a public speaker. Maybe you’ve watched – on video or in person – as a performer or politician has to deal with mocking or derisive comments, shouted from the crowd. Maybe the speaker answers back, or security escorts the heckler from the venue.
Change initiatives can have hecklers too. They usually don’t shout down a speaker; they use other ways to criticize and disrupt.
It’s to be expected. People are resistant to change. Hecklers might say negative things about your project or predict it will fail. They might even try to sabotage project activities or influence others to join in their negative campaign. You might secretly wish you had security to escort those hecklers from the building! But that’s not going to happen.
So how do you confront hecklers? You don’t.
Here’s what you do. Instead of seeking out and addressing every critic of your project, focus your energy where it counts. Figure out who has the ability to influence the success of the project. Are some of those influencers mildly resistant or mildly supportive of the change? Those people are your sweet spot. They matter, because they can affect the project. And they’re not so strongly against your project that they’re beyond persuasion. Your sweet spot is that group of hecklers that you could actually turn into advocates, with a little effort.
But how do you bring them over from the dark side? Communication and involvement are your tools.
Communication. Ask: What do they care about? What are the benefits of the change to them? What negative consequences will they feel if the project fails? What do they need to hear to make this change seem like a good idea?
Involvement. Ask: How can we help them own the change? Where can we leverage their expertise? What has resonated with them in the past to spur them to action? Based on that, what how can they participate? Focus groups? Governance? Serving as subject matter experts?
So don’t confront all of your hecklers. Instead, focus on those in your sweet spot. Continue to communicate, engage, train, and support them as you execute your change management plan. As the project bandwagon grows, the fans will drown out the hecklers.