Change resistance

Resistance to Change

Almost every time a change is put in motion, it will meet with resistance from some people. How you respond to this resistance and strategically navigate your way around it will be a reflection on your ability as a leader, to lead and manage change. So let’s have a look, in this module, at some of the core reasons why people don’t like change.

Rick Maurer put together a simple Venn diagram that is a very useful tool to understanding the impact of change on people. This module will look at the practical applications of Maurer’s model as it can be used by you, as the leader of a team, wanting to mitigate the impacts of change on your team. 

According to Maurer, people would be inclined to resist change for one of three reasons. The first of these is if they don’t get the change. This is first level resistance and is probably the easiest to counteract. As a leader who is tasked with implementing change, this is where communications become so very important. Making sure that the entire team is fully informed as to the reasons why the change has to take place is the starting point for any change management.

Without clearly articulating this to your team, people are left in the dark as to why the change has to happen, and this is unlikely to help people embrace the change, regardless of how positive or negative it may be.

The second reason why people may resist change is if they don’t like the change. This is what Maurer calls second level resistance to change. This can occur when your explanation about the change is clear but the change itself will be perceived as having a negative impact on individuals within the team. So even if they can understand the need for the change, they simply don’t like the fact that they have to go through it. This resistance is different to the first level in that it is an emotional resistance. Providing more information about the change will not make the person feel better. 

As the leader your response to this level of resistance should be to focus your energies on listening to the concerns and anxieties of your team and building your response strategy around the provision of support for those who are struggling to accept the change. This may involve one to one meetings with key individuals to explore the wider feelings towards the changes, or it may involve holding bigger discussion groups to try and understand people’s feelings so that you can understand how best to meet their emotional needs.

The third level of resistance is if people don’t like or trust you. This is the most difficult resistance to overcome because even if they understand why the change has to happen and what it will entail, and support it in theory, they simply won’t because they don’t like or trust the person who is implementing it. Maurer talks about this being the most overlooked reason for change resistance. 

The only way to overcome this third level of resistance is to build trust with your team from the outset. Without trust being present in your team environment, you will be unlikely to implement any change successfully and sustainably. And this is why, as a leader, you should work hard and continually on the establishment of trust within your team. 

As a leader in a team you will always have a range of personality types. But there is a law of opposites that does tend to apply as well. What I mean by this is that in every team there will be those who dislike change, and for them change is very stressful. However, in every team there will also be those who like change and some who even thrive on it. For these people an environment devoid of change can be equally stressful for them.

There will also, in every team, be those who like their leaders and are likely to go along with what their leaders are asking them to do. However, there are also likely to be those who dislike their leaders and will be disinclined to follow their lead.

These sorts of opposites will always exist in team dynamics. The key for you as a leader, therefore, is to accept this and work on building influence within your team. The challenge is not to make everyone in the team think in exactly the same way, but rather to swing the balance in favour of what you are trying to achieve. This is a large part of change management. If you have a team that is on board with your vision and mission, this influence becomes a lot easier because people can see what you are trying to achieve. And even if they don’t like change, they may accept it as part of the move towards the vision. 

So some key takeaways from this module are:

Firstly, before rolling any change out to your team, think through your strategy first. Make sure that you understand what it is that you’re rolling out and try to build a picture in your own mind about how it is going to impact the team.

Secondly, make yourself available to answer questions, talk about anxieties and concerns with whomever needs to talk them through. This is your PR and if you give people time, they will come on board eventually.

And thirdly, always consider the fact that even if you don’t have any specific changes in mind currently, keep preparing your team to embrace change that may come along sometime in the future. Do this by building trust, being open and being fair all the time. This will set you up as a leader that people can look up to and trust to lead them successfully through periods of change. 

Point of Reflection:

Think about some of the changes that you have experienced in the past. Which of these have you resisted adopting? Reflect on what level of resistance you may have been experiencing and try to understand why.

Personal Development Activity:

If you have a team already you may well be having to implement some changes in the near future. If you do not yet have your own team, consider an imminent change that you will be faced with in your team.

  1. Identify one change that you feel may present challenges. 
  2. Draw a Venn diagram similar to the one in the module content and label each circle, 
    1. ‘Don’t get it’
    2. ‘Don’t like it’
    3. ‘Don’t like you (or the team leader)’
  3. List your team members’ names in the Venn diagram where you feel they fit.

This will help you identify the strategies you may need to adopt with individuals as you begin strategising your implementation.