Overcoming Resistance to Change

Begin to change something and you are sure to encounter resistance. Resistance is a natural phenomenon that every leader encounters, but few understand. Moreover, leaders often fail to distinguish the subtle differences in types of resistance and, consequently, they frequently mistake their allies for their opponents and vice versa. Resistance often dooms change initiatives because it exists in many forms and because leaders have put little forethought into its significance. To put resistance into perspective, it is imperative to first look at change from the point of view of resistors before attempting an outright definition.

Resistors come from the ranks of stakeholders. Stakeholders are persons who have a “stake” (like gold miners staking a claim along a riverbank) in what occurs within the group. This stake may take the form of emotional, financial, political, or social investment, and generally exists as a complex interaction of all of the above. Therefore, due to their stake in the organization, stakeholders are people who affect change and are, in turn, affected by change. Given this reality, stakeholders can readily become resistors seeking to maintain the status quo.

The resistance put up by stakeholders runs the gamut from simple reluctance to outright warfare. Although the proposed change may be beneficial, stakeholders may face a variety of personal challenges in response to a change initiative. Change leaders who overlook, minimize, or downplay the challenges facing stakeholders may inadvertently contribute to the resistance. Here are some examples of challenges stakeholders face that can become contributing factors in stakeholders’ resistance to change:

  • Trusting that their best interest is being protected;
  • Learning new ways of behaving;
  • Committing to a demanding process of change;
  • Embarking on uncertain pathways;
  • Making personal sacrifices;
  • Supporting the change initiative financially;
  • Negotiating turf issues with other stakeholders. 

The prospect of change comes with a high cost for stakeholders. Change will cost them something, whether emotionally, financially, politically or socially. The risks versus benefits at the outset of a potential change are unclear to stakeholders. Therefore, change leaders should not be surprised that stakeholders do not automatically collaborate with their proposals for change. Cory Newman (1996) describes what resistors face: “They have doubts, fears, hesitancies, missteps, blind spots, and other internal obstacles to growth and change. Furthermore, they are faced with a potential slew of external impediments.” Resistors defy change for a reason. Understanding the reason they do so is crucial to the success of the initiatives of change leaders. 

Once the stakeholders’ point of view is understood, it is then imperative to find a clear definition of what exactly is resistance. The term “resistance” is borrowed from the science of electrical engineering. In a field of electrical current, a resistor is that which slows, blocks, or obstructs altogether the flow of electricity through that field. Resistance, therefore, is the force acting to impede the free flow of an electron from one end of the circuit to its intended destination. Similar is the case of leading change within social organizations. Here, in place of electrical energy flowing through a circuit, think of the proposed change initiative as energy moving through the social group or organization. Resistance, in such a context, occurs when an individual or group of individuals obstructs that flow of organizational energy moving towards a changed future. 

The consultants at TurningWest are skilled in the art of overcoming resistance to change. We are able to immediately assist you by providing you with an accurate diagnosis of your obstacles so that these can be overcome. We will then assist you in mapping a strategic plan for initiating change that will create as little resistance as possible. Finally, when you engage us as part of your team we will coach you on how to anchor change so that it lasts. Only in so doing will your business or organization be free to reach its fullest potential. 

Call us today so we can begin immediately!

 

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