Helping People Work Through Resistance To Change

This is a topic that often comes up in change workshops. Usually the subtext is something like, 'how to avoid this resistance?' or 'how do we stop that resistance?' or 'how do we make this resistance go away?'

One source of resistance to change, is if the person or people perceive they are experiencing a loss.

This reminds me of Ronald Heifetz's statement, 'people don't fear change, they fear loss'.

So for me, the starting point is to understand if there is a loss the person or people are experiencing from the change. We can usually only do this by talking to the people affected, and seek to understand the impact of the change from their point of view. Once we have as clear an insight as practicable on their perspective, we can work with the people to address that loss.

I want to introduce the concept of:


For all of these we need to understand the nature of the loss from the person's perspective.


The opportunity is to move into problem solving mode and work with the employee to find a way to avoid the loss. For example, if a move from location A to location B is creating the loss of being able to take a child to an activity after school, look for a solution that enables the organisation change to occur AND, still enables the person to take the child to that after school activity. Could the person stay at location A? could they move to a different location, could they attend at the location A on the day of the after school activity? Could they find a different opportunity to spend time with their child from the new location? I will not pretend this is simple, its not and it involves commitment from the leader and the person affected by the change. Another factor to consider is, will assisting them with this specific impact of the change cause in an increase or decrease in that employee's adaption to the change overall. If the answer is to increase their adaption, it is probably worthwhile. If the answer is to decreases their adaption, it may not be worthwhile. There is also the question of precedent. If the organisation is mature enough to enable a variation for an individual without creating a negative precedent and therefore reducing the adaption of the organisation overall, then it is better to not resolve the individual's issue in this way. If the resolution does not cause such a negative precedent, then, it is probably appropriate to apply this resolution.

Then there is REFRAMING.

A loss is a perception, it may be a real perception, but sometimes a reframing of the situation may reduce or eliminate the sense of loss. Is travelling to location B really that different from travelling to location A? Are there any advantages to location B over location A that the person hasn't realised yet? Is there anything that can be done in the short term or longer term, to make travelling to location B more acceptable? I stress that honesty about the affect of the change is important. I have witnessed increases in resistance when the leadership have attempted to gloss over the negative affects and not be respectful of the negative affects on people. Acknowledgement of the affects is an important part of helping people to engage in finding solutions and reframing.

Another part of reframing is promoting a sense of perspective. 'So travelling to location B is not as preferable to you as Location A. But compared to the option of Location C or taking a different position or X or Y or Z, which would you prefer? Remind the employee about bigger changes that have dealt with in their life. If they could deal with those bigger changes, do they reckon they could get through this?

If REFRAMING is not addressing the sense of loss, then we move to GO THROUGH the loss.

So we reconcile the the person will have to go through this loss. In my experience this is the most challenging option for leaders to support. To support someone through a loss, we need to respect their is a loss for this person. We can then choose to be supportive of them going through the loss. We need to understand the grief cycle and and the signs of people at the stages of that cycle, along with what can be done at each stage to support people to go through the cycle. This may be within the capability and capacity of the leader. If it isn't, additional support, such as human resources specialists, coaches or counsellors, may be engaged to assist the person. An option at this point is to give the employee a choice of which loss they would prefer to go through. E.g. would they prefer to make the change in location, or would they prefer to look for a position near the original location with a different employer? or would they prefer to take on a diffrerent role at the original location? This is not to be a threat, but is to help the employee engage with a genuine choice about how to proceed with this aspect of their life.

So to summarise.

  • People don't fear change, they fear loss.

  • When loss does occur, we can assist them with that loss by; RESOLVING the loss, REFRAMING the perception of the loss or, support them to GO THROUGH the loss.