Resistance is useless

Resistance is useless
By Paul Clifford & Carly Newman

Recently, a client made a comment on one of our blogs that they’d like to see FBG write an article on “…strategies to change the mindset of the 'resistant' employees”. The word resistant was placed in inverted commas because we know that describing someone as resistant during change is often erroneous and likely to create the exact opposite of our intent – getting people ‘on board’ with change.

Labelling someone as resistant assumes they are making a conscious choice to oppose change.  In reality, it’s not that simple.  Unfortunately in our fast paced environment simplicity is what a lot of us seek to grab onto at any opportunity.  We often don’t reflect on the broad range of possibilities that might explain an employee’s apparent rejection of change.  Instead we will often make the attribution error, crediting the rebuff to the individual’s character with thoughts such as “you’re just lazy”, “you’re trying to create trouble” or “you’re being difficult”.

Labelling someone as resistant assumes they are making a conscious choice to oppose change

Thoughts like these are examples of our unconscious biases, the shortcuts our brains take to process information.  Without them we would operate at a much slower pace because we would need to stop and think through every single action we take.  We implicitly and automatically both group and categorise people and objects to avoid having to conduct completely new assessments for every new person or object. The trouble with taking a short cut in this instance is we miss out on the golden opportunity to successfully influence the apparent naysayer.

Rather than being obstructionist and difficult, most staff who ‘appear’ resistant often have legitimate concerns about change.  Listen to what they are saying, be curious and you’ll discover that these employees may be, for example, fearful that what they are being asked to do is a waste of time, that they won’t have the skills to do the job, that they will lose influence, or a number of other legitimate concerns.  The good thing about having the patience to get to the bottom of their concerns is that most of the time they will give you something to work with, a tangible concern that you may be able to resolve.

Rather than being obstructionist and difficult, most staff who ‘appear’ resistant often have legitimate concerns about change

As a manager, for example, saying something like: “Frightened you might lose influence, I’ll ensure you are given access and opportunity to voice your views." "Concerned you won’t have the skills to do the work, I’ll help you work out what skills you need and design a development program”.   The rewards come when we take a considered view and keep an open mind.  When we use labels we shut the door on any chance we have of shifting mindsets in a positive direction.

Gaining buy-in for change

So, as a manager, in addition to avoiding using the ‘resistant’ label, what are some of the key things you can say and do with your staff to get their buy-in around change?

  1. Be mindful of your biases. When you are hearing what you immediately think of as resistance, counter your urge to take a short cut and prepare to listen and understand
  2. Dispel the rumours/myths. Listen for any misinformation the individual may have heard about the change and counter with facts
  3. Clarify the rationale or purpose for the change - most people need to hear this multiple times
  4. Identify ways they can replace their perceived sense of ‘loss’ with something of equal merit
  5. Involve staff in designing the change as much as possible – give them a meaningful role to play
  6. Encourage staff to let go of comparisons with past change initiatives and focus on the strategies that will help make this one successful
  7. Celebrate the small wins. Link their actions during change with the bigger picture to reinforce progress made

As we battle to keep up with increasing demands that are being placed on leaders, it can be easy to look for efficiencies to cut through to results.  Unfortunately some mental short cuts can bring us undone as they lead to erroneous assumptions.  In times of change a more considered approach is required, taking the time to seek to understand what our staff are saying to us and work diligently through the issues, sometimes on a person by person basis.  It can be tough in the short term but the reward is more likely to be an engaged employee group working with you to forge ahead to make the change a reality.


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Guest Thursday, 23 May 2019