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Finding the Value in People's Resistance to Change

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Change happens all the time, but we don’t always resist it. For instance, the weather, what you eat each day, how long it takes for you to get to work and installing an update to your computer are all changes that we tend to take in our stride.Little -man

Understanding resistance is important when you manage change or give advice and guidance to others.

In essence, resistance is something that should be viewed as useful information, rather than a negative phenomenon that should be avoided or prevented because it gets in the way.

What types of change don’t provoke resistance?

We have already identified that we don’t resist everyday changes, like the weather. What is it about these changes that mean they don’t provoke resistance?

  • They are a small change within a regular event
  • We haven’t labelled them as ‘changes’ so we perceive them differently
  • Some things (like the weather) are so outside of our control, there’s no point in resisting the change
  • The change has little significance (e.g. being two minutes early or late to work doesn’t matter)
  • The change itself is within the boundaries of what is ‘normal’ (e.g. you can change what you eat each day without necessarily eating lots of new foods, if any)

When is resistance likely to occur?

To answer this we need to consider ‘what might cause resistance?’. Well, inevitably it’s peoples’ thinking! People going through a change will think about matters such as:

  • Not knowing or lack of certainty about the future
  • What’s not been said (the unspoken)
  • Not being in control
  • New and/or different things
  • Perceived or anticipated consequences
  • Going outside their comfort zone
  • Whether they agree with the change

This thinking may be based on their values and beliefs, past experiences, preferred ways of working/being, habitual responses (including self-talk) or external influences (e.g. what other people say or do).

Resistant thinking can go beyond the immediate situation and be deeply entrenched.

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What are the realities of resistance? 

The realities of resistance are:  

  • You cannot make another person want to do something that they’re opposed to. However, it is possible to change a person’s perspective or change your own, which may result in the resistance disappearing. Sometimes when two people work to understand each other’s viewpoints, both end up at a new, third point of view and the resistance is dissolved.
  • It shows the person cares. Resistance is emotion and emotion contains the energy you need to move from the current state to the future state. Indifference is much more problematic.
  • It is a form of communication or a message. It provides information about the resisting person’s perspective on the issue in hand. George Miller, a Princeton professor and psychologist formulated what is known as Miller’s law, which says “to understand what another person is saying, you have to assume it is true and try to imagine what it might be true of”.

I know that I handle resistance much more effectively when I view it as valuable information (back to thinking!), because I am then in a state of curiosity. By taking this approach you are far more likely to ask fruitful questions and really listen to the answers, giving you a far better chance of finding a solution which suits both parties.

Resistance is a positive phenomenon that can fuel change.

Make the most of it!

Helen Harrison

This guest blog was written by Helen Harrison, one of our most valued associates. Helen has a HR background at director level in an international public company. She now specialises in working with values and supporting managers and directors to find ways to transform challenging relationships. You can find out more about Helen at her website.

Copyright © 2014 Bray Leino Learning

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