iii) Resistance to Change

. Resistance to change does not necessarily surface in obvious ways; it can be obvious, implicit, immediate or deferred. Resistance that is obvious and immediate is the easiest to deal with. Implicit resistance is more subtle, such as loss of loyalty, loss of motivation, increased mistakes, increased absenteeism, etc; these can be difficult to recognise. Deferred actions can cloud the link between the source of resistance and the reaction to it. Reaction to change can build up and explode unexpectedly as a cumulative response.

. Resistance can be considered a natural reaction ‐ a step in a process that ultimately leads to adoption of the change. It is a normal response for those who have a strong vested interest in maintaining the status quo and guarding themselves against loss. Sometimes the resistance is over-simplified at the start of a change process. The expression "I won't" can be unpacked to "why should I?" In other words "why should I let go of something that has meaning to me? If I let go of it, what do I get in its place?"

. The strength of resistance can give an estimation of the degree to which the change has latched on to something meaningful. Discovering what is valuable can be important for designing or amending change strategies. When confronted with reactions that reflect resistance, the following questions could be asked:

- why has the resistance occurred at this particular point?

- what is being resisted and why?

- how is the resistance being demonstrated?

- are there any outside influences causing or adding to this behavior?

. One of the most common mistakes made by managers when they encounter resistance is to become angry, frustrated, impatient or exasperated. The problem with an emotional reaction is that it increases the probability that the resistance will intensify.

. Some of the common motives for resistance are:

- secondary gain resistance ‐ reluctant to change, ie like the care and attention that management gives you, but do not want to change.

- defence mechanism ‐ people initiate an assortment of reactions (usually emotive) to defend themselves from painful realisation and to maintain current status, eg involving shifts in power and authority or significant personal development. They require behavioural changes to handle the new situation.

- new changes may reflect poorly on past performance, ie require an admission of past incompetencies and "loss of face".

Some reasons why resistance occurs

cognitive bias, ie we prefer to proceed along the familiar, known path rather than new, unknown directions, activities, etc.

- threats, ie our brains are most concerned about threats. Something new and/or different is seen as a threat.

critical analysis, ie an education system that encourages and rewards a focus on identifying what can go wrong, eg using techniques like risk analysis, etc.

- displacement, ie it assumes that when people think of doing something they feel strongly about, they are hard to stop. In other words, blocking one option is not going to make much of a difference. This can apply to the serial resistors to change, ie they will continue to hunt for ways to stop the change. On the other hand, change champions need to be flexible enough to find alternatives if blocking occurs, ie need to be very opportunistic

The first step in understanding resistance is understanding the context of the resistance, ie

"...as a general rule, one is ill-advised to confront the resistances directly; such a step typically engenders defensiveness. It makes more sense to begin with areas where the target group feels unsatisfied or frustrated and to suggest ways in which felt deficits, problems, or frustrations can be counteracted..."

Howard Gardner, 2006a

Understanding resistance to change

Change typically brings resistance based on
- fear of the unknown
- lack of purpose
- disrupted habits
- loss of confidence and/or control
- poor timing
- work overload
- loss of face, etc

Need to understand coupling. It is the idea that behaviours are linked to very specific circumstances and conditions like place and context. In other words, a change of circumstances and/or conditions will cause behaviours to change.

Organisational silence can be misconstrued as acceptance of the change. Some of the reasons for organisational silence includes

- fear of speaking up about workplace problems
- belief that managers know best about base issues of organisational importance
- belief that conflict, disagreement and dissent should be avoided, etc

Some Reasons for Resistance to Change

. The purpose is not made clear

. The implementers are not involved in the planning

. An appeal is based on personal reasons

. Habit patterns of the work group are ignored

. There is poor communication regarding a change

. There is fear of failure

. Excessive work pressure is involved

. The "cost" is too high, or the reward for making the change is seen as inadequate

. The present situation seems satisfactory

. There is a lack of respect and trust in the change initiator

. There is a lack of understanding as to the intended result of a change

. There is a perceived threat (physical, emotional and psychological)

. Fear of the unknown

. Middle management are the greatest resisters of change, as they perceive that they have the most to lose from change

. Lack of understanding/uncertainty about the change proposed ie poor communication of the rationale for the change and the desired output of the change

. Self-interest/loss of power/loss of face, ie during a change process, parts of the organisation may be negatively affected, and as a result, have strong reservations about the change

. Existing skills made less relevant/obsolete, ie changing technology can make existing skills no longer applicable, eg printers in newspapers

. Different perceptions/frame of reference/change is against the existing culture, eg public organisations being privatised or commercialised

. Change is perceived as meaning extra work, but if people have ownership and the rewards are obvious, the extra work is less of a problem

. Value of, and attitude to, work and the organisation that employs them varies among individuals, ie attitude to leisure and individualism and work as a necessary evil ‐ need to work out appropriate incentives for individuals and groups

. Change is a surprise-like acquisition: the intention is clear, the consequences are not, and people negatively affected may resist it

. Lack of trust in management, eg low credibility based on past performance and strong unionism can be linked to lack of trust in management

Some Comments that Indicate Resistance

. Yeah but.........

. The toos..........(it's too hard, too complicated, too expensive, etc)

. They will never buy it.............

. It's unrealistic............

. It's just a fad.............

. It will never work.........

. It can't be done...........

. If it ain't broke, don't fix it........

. Don't stick your neck out..........

. It's not in the budget..........

. Let's wait and see........

Types of Resistance to Change

. Resistance can be broken done into 3 categories: logical, psychological and sociological, ie


(based on rational reasoning)


(based on emotions, sentiments and attitudes)


(based on group interest and values)

Time required to change or adjust

Fear of unknown

Organisational political coalition

Extra effort to adjust/relearn

Feared inability to cope with new change

Opposing group values/beliefs

Threat of less desirable conditions

Low tolerance to change

Vested interests

Downgrading of work position

Dislike of management or change agents

Parochial, narrow outlook

Economic cost of change

Lack of trust in others

Desire to retain existing friendships

Uncertainty as to likely success of change initiative

Desire for status quo


Questionable technical feasibility of change

Need for security

Stages of Resistance to Change

. Resistance follows the "grief cycle": shock or denial or disbelief, anger, bargaining, anxiety, sadness, disorientation, depression, acceptance and action (see earlier in this Volume)
. Six Levels of Response to Change (Degrees of Ownership)

organisational development change management

A greater focus on readiness for change and less on resistance to change is recommended. This includes linking your support to the opinion-makers who are leading the change, rather than to the resistors. Although there is a temptation to convert a resistor, this can take a lot of time and energy that could be better and more effectively spent elsewhere, such as with the supporter of the change process. If you are spending too much time with the resistors, the message that you are sending staff is that if you resist, management spends time with you. This is the wrong message to send in a change process.


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