How to Handle Resistance to Change

Posted by Paula Alsher on Thu, May 28, 2015 @ 12:04 PM

Let’s take a quick poll--it’s just one question. Say “me” if you like change. Do you hear the same crickets we do? In our 30+ years of change management consulting we’ve come to a very serious conclusion. The only person who likes change is possibly...a wet baby! Resistance to Change

So, when it comes to implementing an organizational change, whether the change is perceived as a negative one, or even a positive one, reluctance to do things in a new way is inevitable. Resistance is a function of the amount of disruption the change creates for the individual. It’s a way for people to protect themselves against changes in their job tasks, work behaviors, performance measures, power and/or status. If you are a Change Agent, you can anticipate that the more someone believes their current habits and patterns will be impacted, the greater the degree of resistance you will face.

So, what can you do in order to manage this unavoidable resistance to change?


What Not to Do
Let’s first talk about what not to do. The impact of unmanaged resistance is clear -- implementation efforts
are more likely to be over budget, behind schedule, and not to expected specification. In other words, you don’t get the change you thought you needed.

Approaches such as discounting resistance, denying it exists, or trying to beat it down, ironically only serve to worsen the situation. When it comes to resistance you can’t:

  • Overcome it
  • Combat it or
  • Eliminate it

Resistance Can be a Good Sign
The good news is that resistance is not all bad. It’s a natural part of the change process and can actually be a sign of organizational health! Think of it like this: if you are seeking a culture of innovation, you will
naturally have resistance, because innovation is highly disruptive. Ironically, so many organizations are looking for an “engaged” organization, but it isn’t really consistent with the goal of becoming innovative. You aren’t looking to have everyone follow the same path as “lemmings to the sea”. Innovation is contingent on resistance!

A good Change Agent will take advantage of resistance, and use it as project feedback.   If it is purposefully managed, resistance can increase communication, promote genuine involvement, build resiliency, and create opportunity for buy-in to occur.


Tips for Handling Resistance
So, now you ask, but how do I manage it? Here are 5 helpful tips on how your organization should handle resistance:

Tip #1 Surface Resistance Early
Resistance becomes problematic when it goes underground. If you can’t see it, you can’t manage it. Therefore, you need to start surfacing resistance very early in the change lifecycle. Try adding a feedback loop into all forms of communication. This allows you to start gathering information from the get go.

Tip #2 Make Surfacing Resistance Safe
Since you are looking to bring covert resistance out in the open, don’t punish individuals for expressing their resistance initially! Remember, don’t shoot the messenger. You want to reward people for bringing resistance to the surface, not punish them. This will help to encourage individuals to open up.

Tip #3 Identify Non-Supporters and Involve Them in Key Roles
Use involvement as a tool for managing resistance. If it is inappropriate to get people involved in deciding what to change, get them involved in how to implement the change in their daily work.


Tip #4 Occupy Less Than 25% of the Air Time
Simply put, if you are doing too much of the talking, then you are not getting the information you need to effectively manage the resistance. Use the 25% rule to make sure you are really listening to what your resisters have to say.


Tip #5 Explain the Change from the Target’s Frame of Reference
It is so easy for us to forget that the lens through which we view and experience the world, including the world of work, is different for each individual.  What is a small change in the eyes of one person may be very big from another. Make sure you are communicating from each Targets’ Frame of Reference, and that you answer the two “me” questions: What’s in it for me, and what does it mean to me?


If you are going through an organizational change, no matter how big or how small, whether it is being perceived as negative or positive, resistance is unavoidable. It may be out in the open, or lurking in a dark corner by the water cooler. But trust us... it’s there. By following these tips, you’ll be well on your way to handling it.

Free eBook:  How to Manage Resistance to Change

Topics: Resistance to change