When we start a change process program, we often get asked “how can we make changes without causing resistance?”. Our first response is to ask why anyone would want that in the first place. Preventing or avoiding resistance is not something you want to happen. The question is how to deal with it in the right way. Resistance can actually help you implement change in a sound and constructive way. The origins of resistance in a change process are easy to explain. Resistance is the natural reaction to all change, even when someone has made the decision by themself. People just prefer to keep everything the same as it always was.
Resistance only gets stronger when people think they have no influence on something. Less influence is more resistance. The impact of the change also plays a role. The more it affects someone (how they spend their time, job security, working conditions etc.) the more they resist. Finally, the degree to which change has been explained and justified plays a role. Less attention to communication about the change means more resistance. Changes make people think and get things moving. Therefore, it’s important to pay enough attention to it and to deal with it in the right way.
Dealing with resistance
Resistance can be helpful to you. It can never be the reason to abandon a well thought-out change plan, but can actually be regarded as an invitation to understand what’s going on in the organization. Forcing through the change and/or ignoring resistance is not the answer. Realize that those who propose change have it easy. Those who must change are the ones who bear the consequences. such as, for instance, changing habits, learning new skills or uncertainty around job security. It all deserves respect and attention
Different types of resistance
- Rational and realistic: this type of resistance is based on legitimate opinions and arguments. These provide input for the (next) steps that need to be taken. There is no reason not to include them in the planned change.
- Irrational resistance: this resistance is based on the feeling of being forced to do something. At this juncture it’s important to reduce tension and to start listening, ensuring that people feel a part of the change instead seeing it as something that just happens to them.
Resistance is not an enemy, but a friend
The worst thing to do with resistance is to fight it and push the change through. Resistance will only grow. You don’t want resistance to go underground, either, but to create an atmosphere in which people feel confident to speak out about their resistance instead. Resistance needs to be given space, perspectives need to be reconciled and it’s necessary to learn about what’s going on in the organization. Make sure that everything is addressed during the change process. People can be brought into the change process by informing them, discussion and dialogue, by listening to them and being open to their opinions as well as giving them opportunities to be of influence. In how far and in what way this can best be implemented differs according to the situation.
Points to consider in change processes
- Resistance doesn’t mean that change can’t be successful. Take your time and take other perspectives seriously
- Distinguish between rational, realistic resistance and irrational resistance and choose the right approach for both
- Think in advance about how those involved can play a role in decision making and where they could potentially be influential
- Make an action plan that gives insight into how everyone could be included in and/or informed about the change