Dealing with resistance to change



Dealing with resistance to change

 The story of the sun and the wind

One day there was an argument between the wind and the sun. Both said they were stronger than the other. They saw a man traveling on the road and decided to make a test to see which was stronger and able to get the man’s coat off. The wind began to blow and blow very hard. He nearly ripped the coat from the man’s back but the man grabbed the coat and wrapped it even more tightly around himself and kept going. The wind got tired because the man just kept his coat on. Then the sun tried. He shone brightly and the clouds disappeared. Soon the air was warm and dry and the sun kept on shining. Soon the man had sweat running down his face. He was so hot that he finally took off his coat and carried it, looking for a shady spot to rest.

Two different approaches focussed on achieving the same objective, with very different results.  Leadership is often a challenge in being the most adaptable for our staff in order to get the best results.


Why are people resistant to change?

People don’t necessarily fear technical change, they fear the social change that it might bring.  Never underestimate where individual’s thought patterns may take them.  I have known employees left alone to dwell on a potential problem at work and conclude that if they can’t complete the task they are struggling with they will ultimately be reprimanded, loose their job, their house, family and good health.  These are extreme but very common reactions, the look of thunder on an employees face when being told about a new process can be an indicator of how deeply their reaction is going.

We are also had wired to keep doing things the way we know how to do them rather than adopting a new way. According to Rock & Swartz (Neuroscience of Leadership) to do something differently takes more power from the brain, which is why it is easier to revert back to what we already know.

Separating Symptoms from Root Causes (& how to tackle deflection)

We are often better at tacking the symptoms of an issue rather than the root causes.   This is because the symptoms are behaviours that we see, that are visible.  If we tackle symptoms we will only get a limited success, the root causes of these behaviours are what savvy managers look at and address. Here are some typical symptoms of resistance to change (behaviours we often see).

  • Complaining
  • Non attendance
  • Not providing requested information/resources
  • Rallying others against the change while appearing to stay neutral
  • Refusing to change /take part in the change.

Don’t forget that by dealing with the root causes you will see a change in behaviour.

Root Causes

Getting under the skin of an issue has much better results.  If you were to point out behaviours that an employee displays (the symptoms) you risk making the issue personal.  For example, if someone is not attending relevant meetings and you tackle them on this it is likely that they will be become defensive.  This in turn gets the conversation off to a bad start where they are displaying their resistance.  Gong back to the sun and the wind story, you may get better results if you just  get on with the work rather than blasting the employee into doing it your way.

In any difficult situation the aim is to keep the conversation or the situation moving, if we reach a stalemate it is much harder to get a resolution.  In this situation keeping things moving means keeping agreement high, find common ground with the employee, building rapport.  Agree on what can be actioned within the project and identify where there may be need for further discussion.  At all times avoid going head to head with a member of staff, apart from risking being labelled a bully this does not help as it suggests that you too are taking it personally.

Information is Key

In a benchmarking activity in 2009 groups of managers and employees who were resistant to change were interviewed as to their reasons for resistance.

EMPLOYEES: The no 1 cited reason for employees’ resistance to change is cited as a lack of awareness of why the change was being made. Employees were left wondering WHY?

MANAGERS: The no 1 cited reason for managers’ resistance to change is cited as a lack of awareness about and involvement in change. Managers were left wondering why and didn’t feel involved. This would suggest that communication is key.

I have seen very respected managers act like children throwing their toys out of their prams simply because they don’t feel that they have been involved.  Remember that just because you have communicated something don’t necessarily mean that it has been heard, or that it has been received in the way that you wanted it to be received.  Points need reiterating, enforcing and explaining, and, as a manager, it is your responsibility to ensure it is done properly.

So when dealing with resistance to change you may need to go back to the drawing board to re-communicate the issues and reasoning behind the change.

Creating multiple touch points with staff is one solution.  Utilising the Company Notice Board, the email system and team meeting s to drip feed information about potential change can have great results.  More on this in our next blog.


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