Have you ever tried to improve something in your workplace and gotten a response that felt like you’d just been run over by a truck? Well, you’re not alone.
One of my favorite quotations is, “The only two people who like change are cashiers and wet babies. And not all of them do.” We human beings seem to have an aversion to change, even if it will benefit us, and especially if it’s imposed on us by someone else. When you think about it, that makes a lot of sense from the standpoint of our evolutionary history: if something changed in our environment while we were living in caves, it was more likely than not something dangerous (earthquake, stampede, snowstorm, warring neighbors…) and a negative reaction was the right reaction. Getting our hackles up when change is being done onto us is natural and absolutely predictable.
There’s lots you can do beforehand to lessen the resistance. But even if you did those things, it’s likely you’ll get some resistance to the change – especially if it’s major. What’s a manager to do when it looks like a staff revolt is brewing? Well, it depends on the nature of the resistance. Change management authority Rick Maurer defines resistance as “any force that slows or stops movement. It is not a negative force. Rather, it is a natural part of change.”
Rick Maurer identifies three basic kinds of resistance, and suggests three different ways of responding:
- Resistance based on information: this is resistance because of a lack of or confusion about the information provided, disagreement with or lack of information about the idea behind the change. If this is occurring, people are generally being rational, so providing lots of clear information should address their concerns. Note: most of us react to all resistance as if it were this kind of resistance. It’s not.
- Resistance due to an emotional or psychological reaction to the change: resistance based on fear, overload, perceived loss (of power, control, face, self-esteem), projected abandonment. If this is what’s going on, it must be addressed at an emotional level. Giving people at this level facts is totally useless (their brains literally, physiologically can’t absorb the information) and could be counter-productive. Instead, actively listen, paraphrase their concerns, listen, demonstrate empathy, actively listen…
- Deeply embedded reactions to change: this level includes racial, religious or other such issues, personal mistrust, and significant values differences. These are extremely difficult to address, let alone overcome. Sometimes you just have to find ways around them rather then addressing them directly. Again, giving people at this level facts is totally useless. Look for alternative strategies and approaches where possible – and know that sometimes it might be impossible to successfully work with these resisters.
So, when you’re implementing a change, be as inclusive as possible in the beginning with all stakeholders who may be affected. Freely share lots of information. Then, prepare for resistance (you’re going to get it). Identify the kind of resistance you’re encountering and address it at the right level.
Have you encountered resistance to a change you were implementing? Tell us what happened and what you learned. ~ Daphne Schneider