Addressing Resistance Head-On

If someone is resisting your idea, a change, a new procedure, an approach, it’s easy to assume he/she is afraid of or doesn’t like change. Unfortunately that’s overly simplistic and shifts the responsibility to the resistor — their reaction is their problem. Instead, look past the reaction, ask what’s behind the resistance and determine what actions will address the resistance.

Common Reasons for Resistance

There’s more behind resistance than “he hates change” or “she’s angry about the change.” Often resistance is due to an underlying reason:

  • Lack of information
  • Fear of job loss or job downgrade
  • Unclear about the purpose of the change
  • No opportunity to voice concerns or input along the way
  • Unsure of how change will impact him or her personally
  • See no obvious upside; only more work
  • A sense of loss of control or influence

Address and Own the Resistance

As leaders moving a team or organization through change, it’s our responsibility to problem solve, take action and address the resistance that is certain to occur.

  • Share the reason, purpose and vision of the future. Continuously emphasis the “why” of the change.
  • Explain the consequences and risks of not changing.
  • Keep the information coming. Even when you don’t have all the answers.
  • Rely on conversations more than email.
  • Create opportunities for involvement, decision-making and input.
  • Foster an environment where people can ask questions about how things should/will be done.
  • Visibly demonstrate leadership commitment to the change through words and actions.
  • Clarify what will change and what will stay the same.
  • Help people see how new behaviors and different practices will benefit them and the business.
  • Adjust expectations and resources to accommodate additional time and work required during the transition.
  • If power or job status will change, acknowledge it. Avoid putting off bad news and instead honestly and directly let people know what will happen. People would rather know than flounder in a state of uncertainty.

While it’s possible to anticipate some resistance in a change, many times it’s unplanned. The ability to understand the resistance and address it head-on is one of the most critical success factors in any change or transition.

Marta Steele is a partner at PeopleResults. Connect with her on Twitter @MartaSteele.