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5 Tips for Managing Resistance to Change

Last week I worked with a group of journalists.  As you can imagine, after over a century of printing a newspaper, the move to digital news has created a dramatic change for this group of professionals.  For decades, they have honed their craft and perfected the art of preparing for print. Whether they like it or not, the job they love and have worked hard at developing has shifted almost beyond recognition. To say it has been challenging for these people, is an understatement.

While the organizational change that these journalists have endured is a dramatic one, I’m sure that you can relate to it. These days, we are all in transition all the time. What’s going on at your organization? Are you constantly dealing with change layered upon change, layered upon another change? If so, you are not alone. I see this trend across the globe.

What is the impact on leaders? Well, it certainly makes life more stressful and challenging. It becomes harder to focus, get clear on priorities and manage all the resistance on their team.

Let’s talk about resistance. I’d like to normalize it.  As humans, we are programmed not to change. In the book The Neuroscience of Leadership, David Rock and Jeffrey Schwartz’s research indicates that resistance is not only a psychological reaction to change but a physiological reaction as well. Acting in a new way requires power from the brain. So, we are likely to revert back to what the brain already knows. It’s less work and less taxing for us.

This makes sense, right? So, where does that leave us leaders who are charged with managing change? Here are my top 5 tips to overcome resistance to change:

  1. Prepare for Resistance: Know that it is normal and don’t be flustered or surprised when it occurs. It will. Resistance is a natural, human response to change.
  2. Address Resistance Early: Before the change initiative launches, proactively seek out potential reasons for resistance. Ask people, “What concerns you about this change?”  Listen to their answers without judgement. Address their concerns ahead of time before it impacts on the effectiveness of the project.
  3. Acknowledge Losses Openly: There will always be employees losing something as a new change is launched. They may be losing a friend or valued team member, their role may change or perhaps they have invested years of sweat equity in developing the old way. With empathy, listen and tell people that you truly understand their loss and frustration.
  4. Move Beyond the Complaining to the Root Cause:  Don’t focus on the symptoms of the change like chronic complaining or irreverent behaviour. Find out why someone is resisting rather than focusing your energy on how they are behaving.
  5. Include Employees in the Change Plan: There comes a point in the change process when it is time to move on. People need to adapt to the new way. The best way to garner buy-in is to include people in developing the change strategy. If is it your plan, they might resist further. If it is “our plan”, they’ll feel more ownership and accountability to move forward successfully.

At the end of my session with the journalists, they felt much better about the shift in their industry. While I did not give them much time to vent or complain, I did acknowledge their losses openly and with empathy.  We looked at their “old way” of working and compared it to the “new way” that journalist are required to work.  They were able to see that they are not throwing the baby out with the bath water. This was a comforting notion to many people in the room.  In fact, they concluded that the “new way” still requires their talent and expertise to be utilized. It will just be utilized differently. Different is okay.

Take the time to talk empathetically to your people about your organizational changes. Spend less time creating spread sheets and plans and more time engaging with your team. In a world where 70% of change initiatives fail, this will increase your chance of success!

Vanessa Judelman

Vanessa Judelman is an author, coach, and sought-after leadership expert. Over the past 20 years, she has created a proven formula to develop results-oriented leaders who feel empowered and confident in their job. Vanessa is the author of Mastering Leadership: What It Takes to Lead in Today’s Fast-Paced World. Order your copy here.

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