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The Ugly Truth About Why People Naturally Resist Change. (Hint: They Don’t!)

Stop thinking that people naturally resist change. They don’t!

I was recently on the social media platform Quora where I came across a question about why people resist change.

The questioner wondered about how to handle resistance to change from managers in their organization. Since change leadership is one of my specialty areas, I’m always interested in any discussions on this topic.

I was disappointed by some of what I read in those answers. Much of the advice was built on a false belief about change.

It’s the mistaken belief that people naturally resist change.

As I explained in my answer on Quora, the truth is that human beings do not naturally resist change. We accept changes to our lives all of the time, especially when we like the change that others present to us.

People change when they believe it is in their best interests to do so. Click To Tweet

Unfortunately, I see many consultants and leadership coaches passing on this flawed advice in their articles.

Here’s an excerpt from my answer on Quora about why junior and senior managers resist change (these concepts apply equally to anyone in a management role including small business owners and managers in smaller organizations):

As a leader in your organization, you are going to face instances where others resist your efforts to make change. You should expect it to occur. It’s one of the many organizational realities that come with your position.

As you encounter resistance, it’s important to understand the complexity of change, however. (Otherwise, you won’t be able to help move people from resisting you to supporting you.)

First, it’s inaccurate to say that it is human nature to resist change. This is a common misunderstanding about change. We don’t naturally resist change.

The truth is that we accept change all of the time. We easily make changes that we believe are in our best interests.

Look at it this way: Would you resist accepting a million dollar winning from a lottery sweepstakes because it will bring too much change to your life?

Instead, what we do resist is change that we believe is not in our best interests.

This is an important change distinction that’s critical for any leader to understand.

When people resist you, it’s because they see some aspect of what you want to do as not being in their best interests. They could be mistaken in this belief or they could be correct. Either way, however, their resistance makes perfect sense to them.

To counter their resistance to change, you’ll have to understand their perspective and then respond appropriately.

Common reasons why people in organizations believe a change is not in their best interests include the following:

– Loss of status or job security in the organization

– Non-reinforcing reward systems

– Surprise and fear of the unknown

– Peer pressure

– Climate of mistrust

– Organizational politics

– Fear of failure

– Lack of tact or poor timing


So, if you are managing your team under the false belief that they are naturally going to resist any change that you propose to them, get rid of this outdated thinking.

Your team members will not automatically resist you because it is their human nature to do so.

If they resist you, it will be because they do not see much benefit to them with the change that you are proposing.

Here’s three things you can do to gain more cooperation from others for your change effort:

  1. Spend quality time in two way communication with your  team members to understand their perspective about the change effort you are proposing.
  2. Explain clearly to them why your change effort is beneficial to them as a group and as individuals.
  3. Give them a role in helping you to implement the change effort.
Gain team member support for your change effort by giving them a role in implementing it. Click To Tweet

If you take these simple steps, you’ll have a better chance of moving others from resisting you to supporting you.

Finally, here’s some final advice that I’ll give you.

How you communicate the need for change is critical!

When you make significant change, if all that you ever communicate to your team members is do-it-my-way-or-hit-the-highway, you’ll harm your ability to gain their support for your change effort. Instead, you may find that you have created even more resistance to the change that you want to implement.

In addition to keeping their job, explain the other benefits that your team members will gain by supporting your change effort.

For example:

  • Will they gain new knowledge or skills?
  • Will they be better able to meet customer needs?
  • Will it be easier for them to do their work?

As you communicate the need for change, it’s best to focus on communicating these other benefits and tone down your threat language. If you do, you’ll have a greater chance of getting your team members to want to change for themselves.

As you communicate the need for change, keep in mind that no one likes to be threatened. Click To Tweet
Written by Robert Tanner | Copyrighted Material | All Rights Reserved Worldwide

Robert Tanner, MBA

Welcome to my leadership blog. I'm the Founder & Principal Consultant of Business Consulting Solutions LLC, a certified practitioner of psychometric assessments, and a former Adjunct Professor of Management. As a leadership professional, I bring 20+ years of real world experience at all levels of management.

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