One thing that is constant in our life is change. Implementing and managing change is often challenging, especially when it involves multiple people, large organisations and different workplaces. The current climate of uncertainty has increased the need for many workplaces and people to embrace change more than ever. Understanding and accepting that change is inevitable and necessary is the first step in reducing resistance to change during change or uncertainty.
“People don’t resist change … They resist being changed.” – Peter SengeTweet
Even when it comes to personal growth and professional improvement, one must learn to accept, adapt and prepare to changes happening around them like for instance, changing work habits, routines, or adopting new organisational or business strategies or learn a new concept to fill their own skill gap, or developing an adaptable work force.
Whether you want to implement small or large changes, it’s easy to get lost in the major details of the plan and forget about how it impacts those involved. Most of us are accustomed to initiate changes only when we come across certain obstacles or when we need to avoid problem situations. Other times, we tend to view change as an obstacle, distraction or sometimes perceive it as unwanted or undermine its need.
Implementing any change initiatives is always difficult as habitual attachment to familiar practices, processes, systems, places and people may have to go or replaced, because of which many are not ready to adopt and work around them, be it in their businesses, organisations, work or personal life. To lead or manage change effectively is to know what to expect and how to approach its impact on people on an emotional or psychological level.
Why do we resist change
As change is a natural process, so is resistance to change. It’s natural for people to react in counterproductive or in opposing ways. Resistance to change manifests itself in many ways and the best way to manage change is to understand why people might naturally be resistant to change and to work around. We resist change not because we dislike the end goal, but it is mostly about the process of getting there. We may not be ready to adapt new methods and processes as they require us to learn and relearn.
Also, sometimes we selectively process information and fail to come out of what we perceive the change to be. Change curve is a classic tool for understanding how change affects people. This model explains what people go through during organisational change, For instance, they are more likely to experience the following at an emotional level during a – initiative which makes us resistant to change.
Shock, denial, frustration, depression/overwhelm/insecurity. Here are some more reasons that make us resistant to change:
- “Don’t know what to expect!” In general, we don’t like change because of the uncertainty. The need for certainty makes us respond to change as a liability or threat.
- “Might alter the norms, rules and processes.” Change often alters the structural stability and order.
- “Haven’t had chance to prepare” Since our brain is hardwired to think, lack of information makes us insecure of our ability to adapt.
- “What if I’m not good enough…”People resist change because they believe that they don’t possess necessary skill level and are emotionally unable to make the transition.
- “What if this proves me wrong…” Some resist because they don’t want to make the necessary adjustments because changes may seem to undermine their previous methods, practices or decisions.
- “This is how we’ve always done things” Breaking a habit is hard work for many. Familiar processes and methods become the habits of comfort and change would mean operating out of comfort zones.
- “Don’t know if I’ll be successful” We naturally need to feel sure and secure about our future success and thus resist anything that lowers our confidence or presents an element of risk or insecurity.
- “Won’t have freedom of choice” Loss of control or lack of freedom to be able to decide your actions reduces the motivation to accept change.
- “Will I be benefited…’people tend to focus on how they will be affected by personally by change rather than seeing overall big picture.
- “What if this lead to…” When we don’t fully understand why change is occurring or when we assess the impacts of change differently to those who are implementing it. A lack of understanding about the intent, impact and potential consequence of change.
- “May lose something valuable” When we focus on our self-interests, we come up with reasons as to why the new way of doing things no longer works. We resist for the fear of loss of something we value. For instance, fear of power, freedom, or control.
- “Just an another initiative …” When we don’t completely trust or believe that the new initiative will work, or believe that it will fizzle out soon enough, we don’t fully commit to the change.
How to overcome resistance to change
“Resistance id never the agent of change. You have to embrace the actions that are going to get you closer to your goal.” -Ali VincentTweet
Since we are creatures of habit, it’s natural to prefer status quo over that which is uncomfortable and unknown. Understanding why people are resistant to change helps you better prepare to navigate through change and also improves your ability to deal with the unexpected. Considering how people respond to changes you want to implement and considering their emotional needs ahead of time can help you better manage change. Here are some strategies for overcoming resistance to change.
Check for desirability and practicality.
The proposed solutions must be attractive and should provide a clear vision as to what things will be like after implementing certain changes. Resistance to change is mainly due to lack of desirability. If you want your team or work force to be willing to work towards adapting to the changes you want, they need to understand as to why changes are more desirable in the first place. Having a clear vision of why things will be better or the reason behind the change, how it will help them make their work easier, increase profits, better job security and so on.
Until and unless the reason for change is compelling enough, the change won’t be desirable. Making sure that the changes you implement are realistic and executable for you or others will make the transition easier. An honest assessment of the change — the challenges, time required, costs, benefits and the available or required resources helps you set right expectations and makes the changes more practical.
Communication can be often challenging during times of change. The main cause of resistance often is because of misunderstanding of why change is happening in the first place. They also refuse to adhere to change initiatives if they believe the risk of changing is higher than to risk of not changing. Similarly, they resist changing something that they believe works well. Communicating the reasons for your change initiatives creates certainty. The more you make your team aware of what to expect and putting context around change, the more you can guide and support them through it.
Frequent, honest and well-informed communication ensures that everyone receives adequate information to make positive judgments. Communicating why the change is happening or why is it needed and how it makes things better will make everyone involved proactive rather than resistant. Considering people’s objections or the issues that are initially overlooked through constructive feedback can minimise resistance to change and rationalise the change.
Related Read: The do’s and don’ts of persuasive communication
Since we like information and certainty, acknowledging the inevitability of change, we can stay in the right mindset to get on with it. Be open and honest about potential consequences of change. Accept the fact that anytime there is a change, there will be a natural dip in productivity as people could get angry or become afraid to adapt to a new paradigm. Implementing change will often force people to change themselves and their habits which leads to discomfort and resistance.
Whether they accept or still resist change, educating and leading them towards the new status quo requires you to be prepared for the change you would want to implement. This helps you deal with delicate and challenging issues in a timely manner and makes resistance to change more manageable. Learning and development raises situational awareness and self awareness of your own reactions and feelings.
Encourage participation and creative thinking
We are so conditioned to take the path of least resistance. The face of ambiguity during change can make one prone to bias or decision paralysis. This makes it difficult for many to innovate, take risks, and to remain competitive. Encouraging them to learn new methods and skills, and to innovate new ideas can help challenge old rigid ways of thinking.
Give others involved in the change process a chance to point out what’s good in processes, or to make suggestions about additional ideas that could be included or to come up with new ideas or concepts. Making sure to include them in the planning or designing process of change makes them more committed. Listening to people’s ideas and problems helps you come up with creative solutions to actively ease the transition.
Changes often triggers emotions. When a change is announced, people’s immediate priority is how it affects them personally. They have questions about the impact on their day-to-day and how changes might affect their role in the long-term. It is important to understand their personal concerns by actively listening and empathising. Being empathetic helps you to understand how changes affect people involved and their relationship with changed goals.
Investing more time to communicate the benefits and opportunities eases the resistance due to fear and anxiety. Allowing them to talk about their worries or even vent their frustrations can help you understand what can be done to reduce their resistance to change.
Provide support and guidance.
People are often overloaded with daily responsibilities. When you implement changes, make sure they have enough time and the skills needed to handle the change as well as the right tools and resources. Effective change initiatives don’t happen overnight. Be open and honest about potential consequences of change and how they will be supported in managing them.
The level of support provided must be proportional to the complexity of the change made. Give them enough time to train or learn the new systems and processes. If it involves adopting new systems or work in different way, equip them with the skills and resources they need to do the job. Providing guidance and support ensures successful transition.
Highlight the positives.
We tend to find security in traditional approaches to life and situations. New processes, methods, procedures or systems can make people think they’d be worse off because of change and hence resist. Not knowing what the change would bring about or concern that they will lose something they value makes everyone anxious and apprehensive about the change. Recognise that people change and accept the new when they know what is in it for them. Sharing how the change is going to benefit them individually helps them adopt changes easily. People will rebound and respond more quickly when you are honest about what is and what isn’t—what benefits and the consequences.
The ability to adapt quickly to change or to implement changes successfully in today’s evolving workplace environments requires creating supportive workplace culture, having clear and inclusive communication, and establishing reliable feedback loops as part of an effective change management framework.
What do you do to successfully implement a change in your personal or work life?
What are your strategies to overcome resistance to your change initiatives and how flexible, adaptive and responsive are you?
How often do you plan for changes— when you face problems or when you identify trend or an opportunity?
How frequently do you communicate about the change with those impacted by it?
How realistic and executable are the changes you would want to implement?
What are the risks, obstacles, and effort associated with your change initiatives?
What current problems will be solved by the changes you want to make?
Are there enough positives to outweigh the negatives in your change initiatives?
Resistance to change is a psychological and physiological reaction. Understanding why people resist change and identifying the causes of resistance is important before you begin to consider your approach towards a better change management. Creating a culture that makes overcoming resistance to change an integral part of your change management framework, and considering the perception of those impacted by it helps in overcoming it successfully.
Understanding of the emotional effects of change with right communication strategies, you can ease the transition. With better self and social awareness, one can be successful in making their workforce more proactive in embracing change to ensure success in the face of change and uncertainty.
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