Why is Change resisted? – for Leaders

Change is resisted for a wide variety of reasons, but they fall into four categories:

  1. Disrupts a status quo that is working well for people, or that they are used to
  2. Threatens them, by threatening their job, their job security, or some aspect of their job that is important to them
  3. Unexpectedly adds work or additional thinking when people are already busy with their normal work
  4. Is seen as unnecessary, or worse still, the wrong way to go. The assumption behind this is that the change will be worse for the business and/or worse for the people impacted.

There are lots of theories about change resistance and whether some people more easily adapt to change while others don’t. All of these theories have merit, but we think the bottom line is that people love the change they choose and are interrupted and annoyed by the change they didn’t choose and/or didn’t see coming. By adopting this mindset when leading change, leaders can be more generous and be more attuned to the fact they often “own” the change, while their team is “receiving” the change. Everyone would rather own and be part of the change.

© 2017 All rights reserved
mwah. making work absolutely human

Using the four headings we’ve already discussed, here are some more details on those reasons people resist change.

Disrupts Status Quo

People get used to how things are. Some things they like, but even things they initially don’t like, they get used to. When you disrupt the status quo, you disrupt people’s control over their lives. It can be as simple as where they sit, or as complicated as how they do their work every day. They’re used to it being a certain way, and they weren’t planning on changing it. Of course, you can reduce this resistance by making sure the new way is better than the old status quo.


Work is such an important foundation of our lives, and we don’t like our way of life to be threatened. This can be as serious as threatening a person’s job or their job security, which can mean you’re threatening their income and ability to afford or support their life.

It can also mean threatening some aspect of their job that is important to them. This can be an aspect that is unexpected. Such things as where you sit at work, or which customers you call on, can be really important to people. In understanding this resistance, it’s important to be generous and try to understand why, and not be dismissive. For example, changing desks might be important because a person needs light, or quiet, to work well. Changing offices might mean a terrible commute. Changing customers might mean anything from breaking up a great partnership and relationship that has worked well for ages, right through to changing the family routine as one particular customer was en route to work in the morning, meaning someone could do the school run on Tuesdays.

Also, a new way of working may threaten the person’s confidence that they’re competent of working in the new way. If they feel secure as things are, they may feel very threatened if things change: they won’t know whether they’re capable and competent in the new way.  Equally, what might seem like “technology” may actually mean work goes away, and people will not yet understand whether there’s a new place for them –  new work for them to do. 

Adds work

Everyone has been through a badly-managed change, and they’ve probably experienced the extra work and workarounds required to make a badly-managed change work well. If everyone is working hard and at capacity and you introduce an unexpected change, you’re adding workload where there is no capacity to do it. You’ve made busy people even busier, and if you’ve done that without well-understood reasons, or good notice, then you can expect people to be annoyed and resist the change. It is important to remember that we get used to our work, and it becomes easy to do. When we change things, it often requires additional effort and thinking, so working with change can take more energy and more emotion.

Is seen as unnecessary or wrong

Often people spend so much time on “managing change” that they forget to explain or educate about the “why” of the change. In the absence of a good understanding of the “why ” people might see it as unnecessary or even wrong. They might see the negative impact on themselves, the business or a customer, and not appreciate the upside.

Good leaders make enough time to not only talk about the “why” but equally to allow debate in case their version of the “why” is wrong, or whether there are other options.

In every case, managing or dealing with resistance to change is best done by being generous. There can be no arrogance about “being great with change” if you’re the person owning and leading the change. After all, you chose the change, so it’s not surprising you love it. Like all leadership roles, it’s not about you. Instead, it’s about your ability to understand others and impact your people as positively as possible. Walk in their shoes: appreciate the reasons behind resistance and deal with the resistance by genuinely listening to it and addressing each topic.

© 2017 All rights reserved
mwah. making work absolutely human

There’s a wealth of articles about change resistance. If you’re keen to know more, we suggest you read the following

Ten reasons people resist change

Overcoming change resistance

Proactively managing resistance to change

Are you resisting change? (looking at the other side)

© 2017 All rights reserved
mwah. making work absolutely human

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