Heraclitus of Ephesus, a Greek philosopher who lived in 500 BCE, coined the adage:

“The only constant in life is change.”

According to Heraclitus, change is not merely a part of life, it is life itself. In our daily lives, we constantly experience change on many levels. Individual change, family change, career change, task change, sometimes it seems as though everything changes with every new day.

In the workplace there are all sorts of changes. Starting from organizational changes, through workflow changes, tool changes, and more. It’s important to consider the plan to manage the change before you implement it. We’ve all seen the result of changing things without a plan. It’s usually not pretty.

While there are many aspects to a well-structured change management plan, the one I want to focus on today is managing resistance. Rarely have I worked with a customer who didn’t have at least one person on the team that was apathetic to change. Sometimes someone is dead set against it.

People give all sorts of reasons why a change shouldn’t happen:

  • We’ve been working this way for <x> years. Why change now?
  • The change is going to fail because of <x>.
  • The old way of doing things is well-test.
  • And more.

Change creates mixed emotions for people.

Some people thrive on change. They love something new. Doing the same old thing, day in and day out is boring. Even if the outcome is undefined or success is not guaranteed, just the process of changing things up is exciting.

Most people approach change with skepticism. They want to be convinced that the results of the change will be worth the costs of making it. They can be convinced with a reasonable argument, showing due diligence of the possible outcomes.

And then, there are the people who vehemently resist change. No change is good change. They prefer to maintain the status quo. Why rock the boat?

And yet, to be successful, we need to get everyone on board with the change.

How do we persuade people who are totally against change to come along? What stance do we take? How do we avoid getting pulled in emotionally and taking things personally?

There are all sorts of methodologies out there; everything ranging from sending people to the “time out corner” to bribing them with chocolate chip cookies. Sometimes public shaming works. Usually, it does not.

Here’s the thing – At the heart of resistance is fear. It’s not stubbornness. It’s not being headstrong, unbending, or ornery. It is fear.

All sorts of fear drives resistance to change:

  • Fear of not understanding
  • Fear of other people noticing you do not understand
  • Fear of ridicule
  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of losing your job

If you recognize that fear manifests as resistance, you can create a shift in how you work with someone who does not want change. If you put in guardrails to address the fear – for example, easily available training, someone to ask questions, other types of support and job aids – you stand a much better chance of changing your most resistant person into your change champion.

If you simply see a resistant person as difficult, stubborn, or in the way, you will react to them from a place of annoyance or even anger. If, instead, you acknowledge the fear behind the resistance and address it, you stand a much better change of winning them over with compassion and empathy.

Val Swisher
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