The Resistance Phenomenon When Faced With Change

Resistance is Ever Present

Over the years, as I have worked with leaders, executives, and individuals I have found that they are frequently resistant to change. Resistance is present even when there are clear and compelling benefits for them and their business. I have devoted a great deal of research and attention to this resistance phenomenon because it is so common. Resistance is really a natural and normal process that people go through when they are confronted with any type of change. Facing the harsh realities of organizational change, executing or adjusting a strategy, or managing any other disruption to the status quo can stimulate resistance. Keep in mind, resistance occurs in leaders as well as individual contributors within an organization.

When we are faced with change, the challenge is to be self-aware enough that we are able to identify and manage any resistance that surfaces. When we recognize our own resistance, we can then shift our attention and focus on how these situations can ultimately be beneficial and helpful. Even if certain behaviors and practices have served us well in the past, we have to have the presence of mind to recognize that they won’t in the future. If we don’t, the fear of the unknown can make us believe that the current state is somehow acceptable and we can put off or deny the inevitable need to take action. And the truth is, if we resist and refuse to take active stewardship for our future, even with its inherent risks, unknowns, and uncertainties, someone or something else will inevitably make those decisions for us.

Four Steps to Coach Yourself and Others through Resistance to Change

Unfortunately, when we do little to improve our situation or refuse to take on changes that may help ensure long-term success, we virtually guarantee that the things we fear the most will unfold. The author, Arnold Bennett, said, “Any change, even change for the better, is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomfort.” And it is true that many of the good and positive things we aspire to achieve come with a double-edged sword. On the one hand, change can be exciting and full of promise for a better future, but on the other it can be uncomfortable and even painful as we navigate learning curves, make mistakes, and struggle to change our behavior and thought processes. Let me share four steps that can help you develop that necessary presence of mind and coach yourself or others through resistance.

Step 1 – Shift Perspective About Change

The first step that will help you manage resistance is to actively cultivate a new perspective about the need for change. This mindset includes understanding that everything we do and everything we offer, including our products and services, can get stale. This fundamental knowledge helps us more readily recognize that we have to be mentally prepared to embrace, create, and accept something new and different on a regular basis.

Step 2 – Move Through Change with Confidence and Courage

The second step requires that we come to grips with making the fundamental decision and commitment to move forward despite the pain and unknowns. In essence you have to have a courageous conversation with yourself about your willingness to work through the resistance. It is helpful to remind yourself that you have successfully managed many forms and types of resistance in the past or you wouldn’t be where you are now. Build on the progress you have made and be confident in your ability to work through difficult things.

Step 3 – See Changes for What it is and What it Isn’t

Step three requires a mental calculation. You have to do the math—if you will—by asking yourself what you really hope to gain—and what you are likely to lose—if you stick with the tried and true path and only act on the things that you are comfortable with. It may be helpful to seek out the opinion of others you trust to give you some insight and guidance. If you can logically see that the benefits of change outweigh the risks of change, you are in a good position to overcome the inertia that everyone experience at times.

Step 4 – Tell Your Thought-Provoking Story

The last step is this—you have to get out in front of people and tell your story. Be willing to show your vulnerability and own up to the fact that even positive change can be difficult. Sometimes sharing how you feel with others and explaining how you came to the realization and made the commitment to take on the change process can provide the additional momentum you need to break out of the resistance mode. Leaders of strategic change have confidence in others and are willing to communicate that together, the challenges that accompany any change, small or large, can be conquered. However, when you do this it is important to give people an opportunity to process the change in their own minds.

Recognize that they too may be feeling resistant. Too many leaders expect people to jump on board with a new strategic initiative and automatically embrace it. They forget that everyone needs the opportunity to work through the stages of change. Create realistic expectations as people unlearn old habits and practices that served them well in the past.

As a final reminder, you can’t give up. Be positive, optimistic, and upbeat as you get moving and take action. I fundamentally believe that resistance is unavoidable, but I firmly believe that it can be managed.

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About the Author

Steven Stowell, Ph.D.

Dr. Steven J. Stowell is the Founder and President of the Center for Management and Organization Effectiveness, Inc. CMOE was created in 1978 for the purpose of helping individuals and teams maximize their effectiveness and create strategic competitiveness. Steve’s special interests lie in helping leaders and organizations transform into high-performance cultures that are focused on long-term, sustained growth. Steve began his career working in the energy industry. During the past 30 years, Steve has consulted with both small and large corporations, government agencies, school systems, and non-profit organizations in 35 different countries. Steve enjoys the challenges of • Helping functional organizations define, create, and execute strategy in order to differentiate the business. • Developing and designing creative and innovative learning experiences, simulations, and keynote presentations. • Helping functions across the organization be more effective and aligned in executing long-term plans. The centerpiece of Steve’s consulting, learning, and executive coaching work is his advocacy of applied research and data collection. Steve is a highly effective presenter and facilitator and enjoys creating customized solutions, assisting senior teams, defining strategic direction from the individual level to the corporate and business-unit level, and improving teams that are faced with important challenges and issues.