Solution Saturday: How to Prevent Cynicism

Hi Dan,

My organization is going through a very large merger with a lot of unknowns in there. Do you have advice on preventing employee cynicism?

I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic!

Concerned about cynicism


Dear Concerned,

It doesn’t make it feel any easier, but your situation is quite common these days. I coach leaders who are navigating the turbulence of mergers all the time. First, lets think about the big picture.

Big picture:

Disruption is opportunity when you press into the future rather than cling to the past.

The advantage of disruption is you find the courage to explore new opportunities. People look for new ways to add value, new jobs outside the company, and clarify their role inside the company. It’s good to do all three.

Disruption frees us to explore opportunities and develop ourselves. Lets turn our attention to preventing cynicism.

Employee cynicism:

Employee cynicism is justified.

Companies cause cynicism when they ask the wrong question. “How can we get the most out of our employees?” This question inspires resistance. A better question is, “How can we inspire our team members to bring their best to current opportunities?”

Organizations that routinely use layoffs to cut costs should expect cynicism from the workforce. Telling people to not be skeptical and pessimistic won’t help.

Prevent or promote:

Choose to promote something positive rather than prevent something negative.

You might choose to promote enlightened self-interest rather than working to prevent cynicism. It’s one thing to say, “Don’t be cynical. Give the merger a chance.” It’s another thing to ask, “How might you serve yourself well during the merger?”

Cynicism justifies self sabotage. Good employees become foot draggers, for example.

What might you promote?

  • Understanding. It’s normal to feel stress during mergers.
  • Transparency. Some secrecy is necessary during mergers. Over-communicate everything that can be ethically shared.
  • Candor. Tell the truth. If you don’t know. You don’t know.
  • Action. Find something you can do. Mergers make us feel helpless.

Dealing with helplessness:

Deal with helplessness by finding something to do. Helplessness comes out as anger, distrust, and/or giving up.

People complain and gossip when they feel helpless. Listen to concerns. Turn conversations to opportunities. You might say, “I hear what you’re saying. What might we do about it?” The first response to this question is often, “Nothing.” That makes everyone feel even more helpless.

Questions that turn toward action:

  • What might we do to support each other?
  • What will serve you well during the merger? Follow up with, “How will that serve you well?”
  • What does bringing your best self to this situation look like?

Thank you for your email. You have my best wishes for success during and after the merger.


What suggestions do you have for Concerned About Cynicism?

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