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Six Reasons Why Resistance Challenges Those Responsible for Organisational Change

Anyone responsible for facilitating change in organisations or groups will, without doubt, encounter people who resist their efforts.  

In my experience, I often see managers and leaders lose their nerve in the face of active resistance and change efforts inevitably falter.  Here are six of the most common reasons resistance is so challenging:


I’m fascinated by how those who resist change are perceived by those trying to initiate it.  I run a workshop on resistance and start by asking participants to describe how they experience the resistor. This results in lots of energy and a flipchart with descriptions such as: 

  • Difficult
  • Argumentative
  • Aggressive
  • Bullying
  • Stubborn

You get the picture.  Having done this, I get participants to form a circle, produce a bottle and convincingly tell them we’ll play a game of strip spin-the-bottle!  The resistance in the room explodes - as expected.  We were never going to play the game (although one person on one occasion was keen) but it’s an illustration of the value of resistance.  None of the participants ever describe themselves in the terms above.  

So perception is key and it’s essential to see that resistance has value.  It’s a natural force and energy that serves to protect and preserve what we value.  If we are to contemplate change, we will need enough environmental support and emotional support so that our resistance is no longer required.

Emotional Resilience

Some leaders of change don’t have enough emotional resilience.  When you suggest change, expect resistance and sabotage!  Expect people to rant, vent and attack.  It’s part of the process and when facilitating change, we need to be willing and able to face, with courage, the strong emotional reactions of others.  If we don’t, we will either give up or press ahead and bulldoze people into submission – either way, the change fails.

Absence of Curiosity

Too few people are genuinely curious about what really causes someone to resist a proposed change.  Judging the resistor as the enemy makes it extremely difficult to get interested in what their need for sameness is about.  When meeting resistance, which is simply energy in another direction, we need to get close to the resistor and genuinely enquire.  Such curiosity will give you 2 things:

  • Knowledge about aspects of your proposal that may need refined
  • Knowledge about the support people need to embrace the change

Fixed Solutions

If you have invested time and effort in designing the exact change you want and you don’t genuinely consult the people affected by it, then it’s likely you are fixed on your particular solution.  I can guarantee, the more fixed you are on this specific solution, the greater the resistance you will evoke.

It’s a process not a task

Change is not something to do to people but is a process in which to engage people.  People need to have a felt sense of the need for change - feel in their gut that there’s more danger in staying the same.  People also need input into possible solutions so they have ownership.  Time also needs to be given to grieve the loss of old familiar ways.  Transition needs to be built into change processes – change is an event whilst transition is the psychological adjustment needed to come to terms with the change.

Implementation needs support

Because managing change takes transition, it’s essential to help people and support them to implement the new change – otherwise they will revert to the old ways of doing things.  The old way is easy and familiar whilst the new way takes more considered effort and evokes a sense of conscious incompetence.  People need encouragement to ‘stay with it’ in order to develop their confidence and competence in their newly changed situation.

Managing resistance takes nerve and guts.  If you don’t see yourself possessing these qualities, get yourself a coach who can help you build your resilience.

3 Comment(s)

I look for resistance! Experience has shown (mine) that resistance is a great starting point. I am a very visual person and can easily imagine a stubborn aggressive bully as a forlorn figure in the wilderness wanting to tell his story. And here lies the first key to enabling change. First, he is flattered that you want to hear his story and feels a sense of value; secondly, and more importantly, his story is where you will find the questions to ask - - the questions that matter to him. Some discernment is critical here. You will need to channel his story/stories and ask questions for the purpose of drawing out indicators that might be relevant to his resistance (see Martin Pearson's 'Simple Stick' and Facilitation - Jan 2013) otherwise you'll be there all night on the road to no where!

Karen Foong / 19-Jan-2013 12:31 PM

A very thought provoking take on the subject.

Michael Graham / 26-Feb-2013 10:47 AM


thanks for your comment and I'm glad you found the blog thought provoking. I'd be happy to discuss these ideas with you further and explore how they may be applied in your own context.


Paul Cummings / 27-Feb-2013 02:53 PM

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