News: Understanding & overcoming resistance to change

As change leaders, it is not only our job to deliver successful change but to take people on a change journey filled with empowerment, teamwork, and achievement.Read our Senior Consultant Gareth Jones personal insights Understanding & Overcoming Resistance to Change”.

We are all programmed to identify and respond to potential threats. It is part and parcel of our (very healthy) human nature.

Any changes to our personal and professional lives, particularly those seemingly out of our control, can provoke a feeling of threat or fear. Often, we might not recognise why we feel threatened because our fight, freeze and flight response has taken over our internal dialogue. However, it is these defence mechanisms that encourage behaviours that manifest as a resistance to change.  

What types of change typically provoke resistance and this sense of threat or fear in others?

I would summarise it as any change that may potentially disrupt or endanger the usual process, routine or environment.

Here are some of the common reasons for resistance to change that I have observed in the workplace:

  • Job security concerns: the obvious example for resisting change. People may feel that the change will diminish the necessity for their job role or overexpose their value to the business. 
  • A perceived loss of control: change is often a journey into the unknown and this can be a daunting experience, leading to a feeling of lost control. Particularly for those people who are not responsible for initiating the change!
  • A lack of direction: every change needs to be supported by a clear vision. The unknown of change intensifies fear and resistance in others, as people are left unclear as to why a change is needed and where it will lead them.
  • Ideological difference is possibly the most difficult of resistances to overcome. Here people have a different outlook for the business or change to what you are pursuing. Do not be quick to quash these ideas, though, as they may not necessarily be a negative! This difference in opinion could well be the winning formula for a successful change.

Even those in the profession of change are not impervious to fear and resistance. Resistance in the most skilled of change professionals is common – often because they have strong ideological views on what should change and how best to approach it!

It is worth considering that there can be several factors influencing the receptiveness to change in your organisation, including:

  • The culture of your company
  • How it incentivises performance
  • The capability and the capacity for leading change within your organisation 

What are the symptoms/warning signs to look out for when diagnosing a resistance to change?

  • Objection: perhaps most obvious, if someone is always looking for reasons why a change is not a good idea or how it can (and will) go wrong. Sometimes these people will actively remove themselves from participating unless there is a chance to put the boot in!
  • Feeling overwhelmed: people can feel overwhelmed by change and often don’t understand why. This can manifest as inaction or inertia. They may seem willing to participate, but don’t know where to start. They may try to avoid the potential conflict of trying to address these underlying concerns. 
  • Submission: sometimes people give in to change. This is where they don’t want to actively oppose it, but equally they do not buy into the change.

So, what are some of the ways you can overcome resistance to change?

Resistance is potentially a recurring battle that you will encounter throughout a change project. But there are several steps that you can take to make the process easier and to reduce the severity of the resistance. 

  • Create a clear vision for change: start the change with a vision and a plan for success. A clear vision helps bring the change to life, it will allow people to visualise the outcome and buy into the need for change.  
  • Harness advocacy and collaboration: people who buy into the vision for change can be invaluable in leading and inspiring others on that journey too. Any change needs the accumulative cooperation of those involved if it is going to be truly successful. Change should never be imposed upon people; it should be achieved in collaboration and partnership with others.
  • Connect and communicate: truly get to understand your stakeholders and the people you’re dealing with. What are their desires, what motivates them, what pressures are they under, what is their position of power and influence and how might this change threaten all of that? Lastly, determine what are they fearful? Build trust and openness in your relationship, be willing to be sincere, honest, and vulnerable yourself to accomplish this.
  • Generate small wins and celebrate these successes: changes can take a long-time to realise their potential – so actively seek wins, no matter how small, that seemingly contribute towards making that vision for change a reality.

As change leaders, it is not only our job to deliver successful change but to take people on a change journey, filled with empowerment, teamwork, and achievement.

Gareth Jones
Senior Consultant

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Why not contact Gareth directly to discuss your challenges and how we can help – via email or on his mobile: +44 (0)7435 621594 

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