5 Ways to Turn Resistance to Change into an Asset

We all know them – the “Resistors” who seem to buck your change effort at every turn. Maybe it’s the key influencer in the department who’s the naysayer, but is pretty spot-on in her assessment of the downside. Or maybe it’s the person who’s well-liked by everyone but has a “wait and see” or – worse – passive aggressive attitude toward change. We all have them…we know them…and we love them, right?

Well, when you’re leading a change effort…not so much. But I actually love identifying and managing resistance to change because, once you unlock it, you can manage it and achieve outcomes that are much more successful and sustainable. I’ve found that there are 5 techniques I often use when uncovering and dealing with resistance:

  • Predict – get to know the folks on the ground who work in each group every day. A great way to solicit this information is through your change agents as well.
  • Empathize – this one is SO key but typically elicits a lot of eye rolling from my clients who worry that empathizing will enable behavior that they don’t want to encourage. However, empathizing isn’t the same as enabling – at all. The more you listen for understanding and seek the root of the resistance, the better equipped you are to deal with it.
  • Solicit Feedback – make time for hallway conversation; survey the group and ask the right questions. Allow for anonymity if you really want the truth.
  • Mitigate – develop a specific plan of action to involve those who resist the most. Give them opportunities to feel that they have a voice –  by letting them define the details around how a new process will work for example.
  • Measure – when you rely on more than hearsay as part of obtaining feedback, you have the opportunity to measure how well your plan of action is working. Use surveys to baseline answers to yes or no questions and plot how people are moving through the change curve.

Remember – when you’re driving a big change, especially one that requires a change in behavior, you have to address both skills and motivation. In my experience leading big changes, I’ve often found that resistance to change lies in the gap of NOT addressing one of those two components. Make sure you’re getting specific about what the change means to each audience (by group, role or person) and that it becomes less of a “one size fits all” message to address key groups. The more you can be strategic and intentional, the more effectively you can address it.

Sheri Browning is a Partner at PeopleResults. You can reach her at sbrowning@people-results.com or on Twitter @sbPResults.

Sheri Browning