5 Tips for Overcoming Resistance to Change at Work

Overcoming Resistance to Change at Work

 Okay, we’re going to make some changes around here! 

Just hearing those words are enough to cause people to put up a defense barrier. Change and resistance are two peas in a pod. If you’re going to lead people into new territory, you can’t just drag them by the heels–that’s a recipe for disaster. We have to acknowledge that resistance to change is real and constantly work to overcome it.

But how can we deal with the burdens of resistance? 

The first step is to understand why change triggers such a reaction. Once we know what’s happening, we can dive into ways to embrace and welcome that resistance instead of hiding and pretending it doesn’t exist. 


5 Key Reasons Why We Resist Change

Our brains are wired to scan for danger to protect us. But danger doesn’t just come in the form of driving on icy roads or encountering a mountain lion. The subconscious also perceives change of all kinds as a threat to our safety. Because those fears live in our unconscious mind, we have to bring them to the surface to move past them. If we don’t, resistance will fester and manifest difficult hurdles to overcome. 

Over the years, I’ve identified 5 key reasons that cause us to resist change. As an exercise, think of the last time you experienced a big shift, whether at work or in your personal life. Take the time to analyze all the thoughts and emotions that came with it and compare them to these main reasons. Remember, our brains dislike change, and your employees are vulnerable to each factor.

1. Fear

We all fear the unknown. How is this change going to impact my life? According to the motivational triad, we’re programmed to avoid pain, seek pleasure, and be efficient. Change does not fit in that narrative in any shape or form. Why would we want to leave our safe cave and risk facing the dangers that lurk outside?

2. Complacency

Change requires energy and action, but our brains prefer efficiency and identify complacency as being easier than making adjustments. The ironic part is that staying stagnant eventually becomes the less efficient option. Think about all the technological breakthroughs that met resistance. For example, people criticized cars and made efforts to prevent the spread of automobiles. Sounds silly, right? Well, we often do that to ourselves on a daily basis because of complacency.

3. Stress and/or Overwhelm

The stress of processing change is enough to short-circuit our brains. When we’re overwhelmed by the potential ramifications, our decision-making skills fall by the wayside. Suddenly we find ourselves frozen in place, not taking action, allowing anxiety to get the better of us.

4. Rewards/Status

Change threatens the status and credibility we have built up over time. The preference to seek pleasure does not like the idea of jeopardizing the way we perceive ourselves. Facing something brand new that we’re not confident in is going to bring an onslaught of resistance to change.

5. Independence

When people are told what to do, it threatens thier freedom. Many individuals react strongly to demands of compliance. Even if you introduce neutral adjustments, there’s a great chance resistance will still show its wicked head.

5 Top Strategies for Moving People through Resistance: 

1. Explain the Why

Transparency is key. If we don’t communicate with our team and tell them why a change is occurring, there’s going to be a lot of questions and, in turn, resistance. Explaining the why should be done in a clear and urgent way to remove space for doubt. Keep the message consistent, and talk to your team before the change is made.

2. Prepare for Drivers

In a company, there are two types of factors that drive change: internal and external. You need to be cognizant of all the factors that could shake things up at your company. It’s important to keep employees informed about these drivers to mentally prepare them for potential future adjustments.

Some Potential Internal and External Factors to Be Informed on:

Internal: Leadership changes, DE&I initiatives, customer engagement scores

External: Government policies and regulations, consumer demand, competition

3. Engage People in the Process

A collaborative approach allows you to face resistance to change upfront rather than down the road. When we include employees in the process of change, we can immediately mitigate reactions and work through fears and doubts. Collaborating will also give people a sense of control, helping to minimize resistance.

4. Create a Learning and Growing Environment

If you create a workplace where learning and growing are a part of the company culture, change is going to be less of a shock. Your employees will feel that they have the tools to adapt and evolve to anything that comes their way. Provide opportunities to grow and develop, and always lead by example. 

5. Accept the Consequences

The reality of change is that some people won’t be willing or able to handle it. When we shake things up, the pieces will momentarily be suspended in the air, and we have to accept where they land. Unfortunately, you can’t help everyone, so help the ones that you can. Also, keep in mind that stress can be a consequence of resistance to change. Creating a safe environment for change to take place will greatly reduce the amount of stress and potential hesitations in the workplace.

Join Our Stress-Free Workplace Online Training

Experiencing and witnessing resistance to change is part of being a leader. But you don’t have to let it spike stress levels and bring down employee morale. If your company is going through adjustments or experiencing an increase in workplace anxiety, consider signing up for my Stress-Free Workplace Online Training. In the three-part virtual session, we will discuss insights on workplace stress, effective tools, and clear steps to establish a healthy and productive environment for your team!