Solid Advice on 4 Ways to Handle Change Resisters

The outline of a deadman on the pavement entitled "Resisted Change"

This graphic is a rather grim illustration of how some resisters of change are handled. Fortunately change management consulting experts have a far less drastic and far more effective change management process to recommend for those holdouts on your team who continue to resist organizational change.

Let’s start by acknowledging that organizational change is never easy for change leaders or followers. Far too many of us are apt to prefer the status quo…it’s known and predictable. But in today’s world, if you are going to thrive, and often just survive, you need to be flexible and adapt well to change.

Of course, there are ways to effect change that sticks. You need to be able to articulate the rationale behind the change in a convincing way; you need to get buy-in from the top on down; you need to paint the picture of how the change will be enacted and how it will affect each employee; you have to be patient as employees make tentative moves in the right direction; and you have to monitor and coach the desired behaviors all along the way.

Assuming you have done the organizational change basics “right,” there will still be those who resist. With over twenty years in the change management consulting field, we can offer solid advice on how to handle the naysayers.

  1. Don’t take it personally.
    Recognize that they are not necessarily trying to work against you personally; they just aren’t yet won over by the need for change and don’t yet see what’s in it for them.
  2. Seek first to understand.
    Openly listen to reasons for resistance and deal with them one-by-one in an objective and compassionate way. Avoid getting angry and frustrated. That will only give change resisters an excuse for digging in their heels deeper. Explain that the change will occur, and that it is in the best interests of the company and the team as a whole. Describe the specific negative behaviors you have noticed and how it impacts the team’s ability to move forward. Be clear that you expect them to make a concerted effort to improve. Your job as leader is to guide the team forward. You need each and every team member to adopt and adapt to the team values.
  3. Have empathy for their situation.
    Change resisters may be fearful that there will be no place for them in the “new” order or that they will lose influence. Listen carefully and compassionately. Provide straightforward and honest answers.
  4. Look forward.
    Work together to find a way your resister can get realigned and be a part of the company’s future. This should be a cooperative effort with both offering suggestions and agreeing upon a timeline of progress toward practicing the new behaviors that are required.

This will be one of those difficult conversations that many leaders and managers avoid. But it is necessary. Most change resisters will adjust, albeit more slowly than the rest. But if they are not cooperative, you need to help them move on. They cannot continue to be on the team; their negative pull will drag the whole team down.

Work with change resisters to help them understand and appreciate why the changes are necessary and what you expect from them.

Read About How to Successfully Recognize and Reward Organizational Change

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