Real Change Takes Effective Responses To Resistance

This post was inspired by a question on one of my linked-in groups about what it takes to bring about change.  First, research tells us that people often prefer to stick with the status quo even if they know it’s not productive.  Many of us, especially when the economy is uncertain and our futures with it, cling to what we know.  So, change is difficult to bring about — whether for an individual or group.

Relevant to this site is what to say and do in the face of resistance to change.  There are the critics who say things like:  “We tried that before and it didn’t work.”  It’s natural to want to react with, “Who asked you?” or “You always have something negative to say.  Why should today be any different?”

But if you want the change to happen, these kinds of comments are precisely what will prevent you from succeeding.  Instead, consider these comeback responses:

“You’re right. And we don’t want to waste our time.  We tried something like it but give me two minutes and I’ll explain how this is different.”

By agreeing, in part, with the person, you diffuse the angst.  You give them credit for recalling mistakes of the past so the group doesn’t reinvent the wheel.

If someone says, “If you’re around here long enough you see a lot of these ‘changes’ that start strong and never go anywhere.”  Consider saying:

“Since you’ve seen a fair amount of that, you’re just the person to help us avoid doing it again.”

Involving people in change is a very well-supported strategy for making it work.  We know that people are more likely to do that which they’ve been involved in planning. They essentially persuade themselves.  In persuasion study we call this counter-attitudinal advocacy.  It can be very effective.

Then there are people who fear change.  They may seem to be resisting because they oppose the plan, but actually they worry about having the skills to do their part.  It takes an astute leader to recognize the difference.  It usually requires asking questions, such as:

“What do you think is the most challenging aspect of doing this?”


“If we did try this, what might get in our way?”

After learning about the fear without labeling it as such, it’s possible to move forward by finding a way around or through it.  And again, involving the person who is reluctant and providing adequate support and encouragement make all the difference.

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