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Rationale for Resistance


Disciplines > Change Management > Resistance to change > Rationale for Resistance

I want to stay | I do not want to change | I am not going to change | See also


The rationale for resistance is often quite straightforward as people justify their actions to themselves. If you want to overcome resistance to change, you must be able to answer the following points.

I want to stay where I am because…

Even if you offer me a bowl of cherries, I may not be very concerned to take what you proffer if I am happy where I am now. People who have been in the same place for a long time are usually in this state. They do not need to change and will view any suggestion of change with distaste.

…my needs are already met here

Needs are basic drivers of action. If needs are not perceived as being particularly threatened and the current situation is relatively comfortable (particularly in comparison with the proposed change) then I will be happier to stay where I am.

If people already have their needs met, then you will need to shake the carpet and provide some sort of threat to those needs so they are no longer sufficiently met for the person to want to stay where they are.

…I have invested heavily here

When I have invested a lot of time and energy in building up my position, both socially and organizationally, then any change may mean bad news. Social investment creates a person's sense of identity. Organizational investment gives them control. Sliding down the ladder that I have so painstakingly climbed over the year is a long way from my shopping list.

Where people have invested heavily, you will either have to show them how to get to a similar position in the new organization or otherwise reduce the value of their investment (for example by moving the people over whom they have social influence).

...I am in the middle of something important

When I have committed to achieving a goal, either personal or emotional, then a part of my integrity and hence identity may be bound up in achieving the goal. When I have partly completed something, I am also affected by the need for completion, such that I will feel uncomfortable with stopping now.

When people are busy, find ways for them to complete the work in the shorter term, perhaps by nudging their goals so they have less to do to complete. If possible, turn their work towards something that will be useful for the new organization.

I do not want to change because…

Even if I am not that happy where I am, I still may not be particularly interested in moving forward with the change.

…I do not understand what is being proposed

It is a common problem for those who are promoting change to assume that it is easy to understand. People who do not 'get' the rationale for change will be less likely to go along with it and may hence hang back whilst they try to figure out what it really means.

…the destination looks worse than where I am now

Although I want to move, the final resting place of the change looks significantly worse for me than the current position. I feel it is like jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire.

If you want people to voluntarily move, then it must be to somewhere better than they are now. You can create this in two ways: first by making the present position worse (though be careful with this!) and secondly by building a rosy vision to which people can then attach their dreams.

…there is nothing to attract me forwards

If the change is nothing to do with me, if the benefits are all for other people or the general organization, if I just do not buy the 'vision' as sold, then I will feel no pull and I will not buy into the change.

You may offer forth a brilliant vision, but do the people buy it? Make sure your communications are clear and couched in terms that people can understand and buy into. Make your visions inclusive, such that people really can and will buy the change.

…I do not know which way to move

If I buy the vision, I may still may not know which way to jump. Some change projects sound wonderful, but people are left wondering what to do (even the managers).

Grand plans need to be turned into tactical detail in which people can see and easily take the step forward.

…the journey there looks painful

The final destination may be great, but the journey from here to there looks very uncomfortable. The anticipated pain of the transition is more immediate than the distant and hazy future, and I respond more to this than to any inspiring vision.

Make sure the transitional period between now and the final change does not appear so uncomfortable that people refuse to join you. In practice, it may not be that bad -- what counts, though, is the perception of the people, so design the transition well and then communicate it well.

...the destination or journey is somehow bad or wrong

If the transition or the final destination somehow transgresses my values, then I will judge it to be bad or wrong and will be very loathe to join the party.

Be careful with the change in working around established organizational and general social values. If you must break an unwritten rule (such as getting rid of people) then do so with appropriate consideration and care.

…I do not trust those who are asking me to change

If my experience of you is that you have been untrustworthy in the past, then I am not likely to buy your vision of the future. If you are going on what I perceive as a perilous journey, then I will not trust you and will not join you.

The integrity of leaders is a very important attribute. If you want people to follow you, then you must give them good reason to trust you.

I am not going to change because…

Even if people do not want to change, they may still have to do so, albeit truculently. Some people, how ever, have the wherewithal to refuse.

…I am able to ignore the change

One of the questions I will ask is 'What happens if I do not go along with the change?' If the negative implications for my non-compliance are negligible, then I can happily not join in.

This sort of situation occurs when the person in question is so valued by the organization that the idea of them leaving is unthinkable. This is often where difficult choices around change take place. What do you do with the laggards? If this problem is not addressed, then the people around them may take their lead and before long you have a silent revolution on your hands.

…I have the power to obstruct the change

Another reason why a person can happily ignore the change is because they can stop it. People in senior positions often treat change as being a good thing -- as long as it is for someone else. When faced with change themselves, they may do whatever it takes to scupper the change, for example by refusing to give needed access or other support.

This is a good test of the senior sponsor of change -- which may need to be the most senior officer in the organization. Those who actively oppose the change must be dealt with -- preferably kindly and in in an understanding way, but ultimately in a firm and final way.

See also

Needs, Values, Goals

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