3 ways to manage resistance to change

Understanding resistance

Resistance is a natural part of the change process. Unfortunately, we tend to talk about resistance to change as being a terrible thing when, in fact, anybody going through any kind of change needs time to process. The struggles of adjusting to the new way of doing things are pretty normal and standard for everybody. That’s not to say that there aren’t more challenges for some people than there are for others. There absolutely are. Some people are more comfortable with the status quo.  These people, generally speaking, are going to need more information and more support to move through the change process than those people who are more naturally innovative. But anyone can find themselves resistant to change.

Resistance can happen to anybody at any time as they work through a specific change, particularly if they’re anticipating that the change is going to have negative consequences for them as an individual. So there’s lots of places that concerns come from. That’s exactly what resistance is. It’s an expression of concern. “ I’m imagining a negative consequence of this change. Therefore, I’m going to say ‘no thank you’ because this is not going to be good.” Having these reactions is normal, and it doesn’t mean that a person cannot get on board with change, but they need you to speak to the concerns they are raising.

The concerns that drive resistance

If that’s the case, then what are some of the “natural places” resistance comes from and what do we do about it? These “natural places” include:

  1. Capability. “You’re asking me to do something new. I’m not sure I’m going to be able to do it so I’m going to resist the change because I’m concerned about how I’m going to be or how I’m going to be seen. What if I don’t have the skill set? What if I can’t be successful in the new world?” So the number one “natural place” is concern over capability.
  2. Capacity. “You’re changing this and, it’s not that I don’t feel capable of dealing with the new, it’s that I’m not sure I have the capacity. I don’t have any more room to take on more responsibility or more activities. Those things look like they’re going to be coming my way as a result of what you’re doing from the change perspective.”
  3. Habit. “I’ve been doing it this way for a very long time and now you’re asking me to do it differently. That’s just going to be plain painful.” Habit-breaking can be a reason that people resist change. “You’re just going to make my life hard and I’m not sure that I really see the benefit as compared to the amount of ‘change pain’ you’re going to inflict upon me.”
  4. Loss of status. “I’m losing, in some way shape or form, something to which I attach my self-esteem.” This might be status in terms of job title if the job is changing. It might be status in terms of a perk or a benefit. It might be status related to office space, to knowledge, or to reputation for being an expert in a particular area. There are many things that might fall into the category of status that someone might feel that they’re losing. If they feel like they’re losing status or authority in some way, then it’s likely that there will be some degree of resistant to change.
  5. Loss of control. There might be loss of control in terms of loss of authority which I’ve just discussed. But, it might also be a question of whether or not the change is going to be managed effectively. “I don’t feel like I have any control over this process, and therefore I feel like this is something that’s being done to me. I don’t like that. I don’t have any control over that and therefore I’m not happy.”

And then there are some elements of resistance to change that are to do with the impact of change specifically.

  1. Past reliving. We know that if someone has gone through a similar change in the past and it didn’t go well for them, or they had perceived negative impact from that change, then it’s very likely that they will resist this change. They’re going to be expecting the same things to happen to them again. We call that “past reliving.”
  2. Ripple effects. “I’ve seen the negative impact of this change on other people, those that I am close to or consider to be important. Therefore, I’m not happy about it. I’m also going to assume that it’s not going to be good for me.”
  3. Threat. “You are making a change that fundamentally impacts my stability and security. That might mean losing my job. That might mean a cut in pay and benefits.” A threat is something that fundamentally impacts and threatens someone. If that person is aware of the threat, or perceived threat, that will absolutely drive resistance to change until they understand how to manage the implication of that threat.

These are the main types of concern that people raise. Once you know where their concerns lie, you can address them.

How to manage resistance

A large part of managing resistance entails 3 things.

  1. Involving people as early as possible in shaping the future gives them the opportunity to start to question, to “flag,” some of their concerns and feel that they have more control to talk about the process in which things are going to be done. This can help the end result and can help mitigate issues around “past reliving” and “ripple effects” as well as other issues. Therefore, involve them early.
  2. Be prepared to be upfront about issues and concerns, and actively solicit people to relay they’re concerns. That doesn’t mean that you’re going to have all the answers. It doesn’t mean you’re going to be able to take everything off the table. But, if people can be upfront about their concerns, at least you will understand where their issues lie. You can then have frank, open, and, hopefully, managed conversations that help them stay on track and be comfortable, or more comfortable, as they work through the change process.
  3. Really think about the tangible impact on people and map the impact out before you start. Impact mapping involves looking at visual things that are going to happen to each individual as a result of the change. Where is the sum total of that impact really high, and what support (what do we provide) to that person? This can help to mitigate some of those issues before they become either infectious in the organization, or explosive – both of which you want to avoid.

At the end of the day, resistance to change is absolutely a normal part of people moving through, and accepting, change, and coming to grips with a new way of doing things. Therefore, you need to plan for it. You need to expect it. You need to treat the resistance as what it really is; feedback. You need to address the concerns that come forward and you need to provide the support to those people in order to make that change process happen for them.

For more information on resistance to change, you can check out some of our other blogs, our videos on YouTube or click here for our Guide to Managing Change

Want our help? We offer coaching for change leaders and change training for employees and leaders. Connect with us at contact@ethree.ca for more information.

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