How To Keep People From Feeling Left Out
During Organizational Change

If You Reject, Expect an Eject

“Human beings, like plants, grow in the soil of acceptance, not in the atmosphere of rejection.”   John Wesley Powell (1834 – 1902), U.S. soldier, geologist, explorer of the American West. Powell is famous for the 1869 Powell Geographic Expedition, a three-month river trip down the Green and Colorado rivers that included the first known passage through the Grand Canyon.

Social rejection is hard in any setting, especially during organizational change. When people feel isolated, they may either physically leave or mentally check out. When someone shares his feedback and it’s immediately discounted, his defenses go up.

Joe*, one of the brilliantly creative senior executives I’ve worked with, left his company after watching his input ignored year after year by his boss, Jack*. Jack made it clear that if you did not have the same marketing experience as he had, then your ideas would be as highly discounted as a Christmas decoration on December 26th.  How unfortunate for Jack and Jack’s team that he did not know how to appreciate Joe’s diverse background in marketing AND operations AND technology AND change management AND process improvement. (*Names were changed to protect privacy and prevent public flogging.)


As a leader, you need to create a work environment that discourages rejection and encourages inclusion while your team adjusts to the change underway. Change the outer social environment to alter your employees’ inner, mental spaces. Here are some conversational rituals designed to help the people on your team regroup and become part of the group again.

  1. Prime the room for trust. To ease fear of rejection and put people into a more collaborative state of mind, start meetings by stating that all viewpoints are welcomed and valued. This step will also downplay hierarchies.
  2. Start with a shared reality. Send agenda items out before a meeting or give team members an article to read – and ask them for input. This signals that you care about what they think and that you respect them enough to give them time and space to prepare.
  3. Encourage candor and caring. Use open, non-judgmental language. Listen with respect in all conversations. Thank people for sharing, and make sure that there are no negative repercussions for doing so.

When people feel excluded, they can’t be productive, innovative or collaborative. The result? Nobody wins. Progress slows. Business value goes unrealized. Try these conversational rituals to build a team that’s comfortable and confident navigating through the curves of change.

What rituals or tactics have you found to be helpful in creating a productive and collaborative environment?

Adapted from Harvard Business Review’s  “Preventing Rejection at Work,” by Judith E. Glaser. 

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Sandra Schwan

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