Why change resistance is created, not given

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I don’t believe in change resistance. Maybe I am the only one, as there is a strong belief out there, that people don’t like (to) change. When resistance occurs within change projects, there is an unchallenged conclusion that goes something like this, “Oh, people resist, because they don’t like change, to change, or this change. They are afraid to lose something, and that’s why they are opposing.”

I would like to challenge that thought, because I don’t believe that people cannot deal with or don’t like changes:

  1. Human beings are highly adaptive to changes; otherwise they would not have survived so successfully. Everyone knows and experiences changes every day, our body is changing, we all are subject to change. We know that change is the law of life.
  2. Research shows that people adapt to new situations quickly, and it becomes the new normal. Of course, there is a phenomenon that people don’t want to give up on their regular habits, but once they get used to a new condition exactly that coping mechanism helps them adapt to the new situation.  Their level of happiness adjusts after a short irritation to a new personal average.
  3. People embrace or at least accept changes when they understand the reason why, when they are properly informed, and when the change is implemented clear and without hesitation.

This is my conclusion after working in and with organizations for 20 years. Most of the time it is not change per se, but the unclear and undecided future situation lingering around that creates insecurity, rumors and all kind of interpretations. And resistance.

I have had some eye opening experiences, and I would like to share the following story from a client. We were called in when a whole transformation project was about to collapse, because of huge resistance from middle management. There was a poisoned atmosphere and no trust. Top management informed me that the middle management did not agree with the planned reorganization, that they defeated all changes.

We started to work with the team and found out that middle managers absolutely saw the need for a new system and even supported it. They desired things to change! The problem was that the rough concept had been presented two years earlier, and since then people had waited for more details, to understand what really was happening. So it was not the change, but rather the unclear and blurry situation that induced them to dismiss the whole project. We needed a few interviews and one workshop to transform the elephant into a fly, and the project started all over.

You have to know when the moment is to involve people ask their opinions and when the moment is to make clear decisions and execute them without hesitation.

But in most organizations, projects are poorly and slowly managed, people are kept in a vague state of information for too long time and it creates  resistance.  So don’t fight resistance but rather manage your projects properly: be clear, don’t hesitate, don’t procrastinate decisions, don’t leave room for hopes that the change will not happen, burn down the bridges which you wont cross any longer. And, more important, use the magic word: “because.” There is nothing more important than the answer to “why” questions. People need to understand the why, the reason behind the change, otherwise they will stay resistant.