Dealing with Resistance to Change

no on the handBy Joanie Connell

Change is inevitable, especially in today’s business world. Yet so many people resist it! On the one hand, it is natural because change often requires us to grow and we, as humans, are built to be comfortable in homeostasis. In other words, it’s easier to stay the same than it is to change. Change is scary and new and we don’t know if it will be better or worse.

Modern organizations are looking for “change agents”—people who embrace change and facilitate it in other people, structures, and processes. As a change agent, however, you will undoubtedly receive lots of resistance from other people who like things as they are. It’s important to be able to identify resistance and work through it with others. Here are seven typical forms of resistance for you to recognize.

Types of Resistance:

  • Asks for more detail

“When specifically did I do that? Was it with Maddie? What exactly did she say about it? Did she say she was angry or just a little annoyed? Was that when she was going through her divorce?”

  • Gives excuses, theorizes about why

“There are just too many moving parts. When you get a system this complicated, you have to expect some amount of chaos.”

  • Attacks you, your methods

“How did you get that information? Are you going behind my back to ask people about me?”

  • It’s a bad time, not practical

“Look, we are really in a crunch right now to get the product out. Can we talk about this later?”

  • Blames others

“It’s all Harry’s fault. He keeps sabotaging my efforts to fix things.”

  • Totally agrees, is not surprised, jumps to solutions

“Absolutely, I’ll do whatever you want. I can even work next weekend if that will help.”

  • The problem has suddenly gone away

“Now that I think about it, it’s really only happened once or twice. It’s not that big a deal.”

Peter Block is a true expert on managing change. He put together a very simple 3-step model to deal with resistance and explained it in his book, Flawless Consulting. The first thing to remember is: don’t take it personally. If someone is going to resist change, they’ll resist it with anyone, not just you specifically. Brace yourself and be calm and unemotional about it. It’s best to be either matter-of-fact or show some empathy, but don’t take the bait and get defensive or frustrated.

Dealing with Resistance:Shh

  1. Identify the type of resistance.
  2. State the form of resistance.
  3. Be quiet.

Once you’ve identified the type of resistance from the list above, it is time to confront it. Here are some ways to confront the typical types of resistance you will encounter.

Confronting Resistance:

  • Asks for more detail/Attacks you, your methods

“You are asking a lot of questions about me/my methods. Do you have doubts about the credibility of the results?“

“You seem angry about something.”

  • Gives excuses, theorizes about why

“Each time we get close to deciding what to do, you go back to developing theories to understand what is happening.”

  • It’s a bad time, not practical/The problem has suddenly gone away

“You seem reluctant to move forward with this.”

  • Blames others

“You seem to think that others are responsible for the problems that surfaced here.”

  • Totally agrees, is not surprised, jumps to solutions

“You seem willing to do anything I suggest. I can’t tell what your feelings are.”

“It’s too early for solutions.”

The last step is to be quiet. Once you have confronted the resistance, wait for the person’s response. It may take them a little while to get there. If you remain quiet and continue to look at them with the same expression you had when you confronted them—curiosity, wondering what the root of the problem is—the person will likely dig deeper and realize that change is important. If they continue resisting, continue confronting in a matter-of-fact way. Keep it at the high level, though. Don’t let yourself follow them down the rabbit hole of excuses, details, theories, and un-thought-out solutions.

Working through resistance is hard and it may bring up a littlegrowth resistance of your own. Catch yourself making excuses for avoiding dealing with others’ resistance. Once you do it a few times, it gets easier. Remember, change can be uncomfortable, but growth is wonderful.

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