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Initial Reactions


Disciplines > Change Management > The psychology of change > Initial Reactions

Questioning | Socializing | Hedging | Hiding | Collaborating | See also


Notice how these are driven by different concerns. Some may be optimistic, but many are trying to assess the threats.


When we are over the initial shock or surprise of the change announcement, a first reaction is often to ask questions, very typically around our initial concerns.

When asking questions we are also evaluating the organization or person being questioned. Do they answer fairly? Are they honest and truthful? Do they know what will happen? Should they?

We will often form our own opinions about what will or should happen. Questions around these seek to confirm what we have already assumed to be true.

We will also ask questions to seek assurance of support and fair play. If we cannot change what happens, at least we feel that we should be treated fairly and with dignity. Organizations that are deliberate in their use of fair process are able to make far greater changes, more successfully, than others.

If you are on the receiving end of questions, they are a very useful window into the other person's thoughts. Listen to the needs behind the questions. Hear the deep concerns. This will give you the starting point of being able to change the people and their thoughts.


As social beings, we also will seek to understand the effects of the change on other people. We will be concerned about the well-being of our friends and colleagues and even if we are not affected, we will empathize strongly with those who are. We thus may take on many of the symptoms of people affected changed, even though we ourselves are unaffected.

If we are affected, we also will want to know if others are in the same boat as us. When we are set adrift by ourselves, we will feel very alone and our identity needs will be strongly affected. If others are also affected, then we will feel a sense of togetherness with them (and will then actively socialize with them).

Socializing may also involve pulling on favors owed to us by others, seeking to find support and safety in the storms of change. Political games may abound as the less ethical players clamber over one another as they seek to save themselves at the price of others.

Watch visitors to your social leaders, carefully, as others who are uncertain will seek them out to hear the latest gossip.


When I am threatened by a change, especially if there is a high impact such as losing my job, then I will not wait for it to happen before bringing my resumé up to date and looking elsewhere. Hedging involves spreading of the bets and taking contingency action to be ready in case of change.

A problem with hedging (as with other actions such as socializing) is that it results in people taking their eyes off the ball just when they need to be even more active if they are to save the ship from sinking. Left unchecked, this displacement activity can become the major cause of failure, both of the change and the everyday operational system.

Watch for people who seem distracted and whose productivity seems to have dipped. In conversation, watch for their shiftiness when asked about their commitment.


Another approach people will take is to get their heads down and keep their fingers crossed that they are not noticed. With their heads below the parapet, they hope that they will not be noticed and that any arrows coming in their general direction will pass them by.

One way to hide is to not rock the boat, appearing at meetings but managing to get lost in the crowd. When they are asked for an opinion (which they will always seek to avoid anyway), they will make non-committal answers or go with the prevailing wind.

Another approach is to hide in the work, for example in redoubling efforts to appear productive and invaluable. The fingers-crossed hope is that when managers are looking for people to cut, they will pass this person by as a solid and useful worker.

A third way is to hide in the change, appearing to go along with it, but secretly plotting its downfall, perhaps with other subversives.

Watch out for this hidden population. Just because they are making no noise and not resisting, it does not mean they are either in agreement or valuable employees.


The general principle of collaboration is to become a part of the solution rather than a part of the problem. The person thus goes merrily along with the change (at least for now), joining in all of the activities and doing what ever is asked of them without complaint.

Motivation for collaborators may vary, ranging from full buy-in to the change to using it as a hedge activity whilst they are actually looking elsewhere. The jury may still be out for them, and their collaboration is an open test, giving you a chance to see whether the change will fly or burn.

Look closely at your collaborators: are they really engaged or are they just playing along? Work hard to keep them engaged in a way that will convince them to stay. Also have a contingency plan ready, should they decide to jump ship or become a turncoat.

See also

Games, Coping Mechanisms

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