How to Have a Difficult Conversation With Someone Resistant to Change by Violet Dhu

Resistance is being reluctant, opposing or pushing back when something new is proposed. When people say they are resistant to change then they are reluctant or hesitant to the upcoming change, new idea, or different way of doing things. This can be both in the workplace and in everyday life.

One of the biggest risks and challenges when proposing or leading change is indeed resistance. As agents of change, we need to be prepared to facilitate conversations about resistance to change both with 1 on 1 conversation and within teams. These conversations are sometimes difficult conversations. We also need to be comfortable to acknowledge and discuss our own resistance to change.

The most common reasons that people resist change are:

  1. Misunderstanding— when people think that there is not any need for change because they trust their old ways. They old ways are working fine, so why change?
  2. Lack of competence — changes in the organisation may sometimes lead to change in skills and changes in work. People may not be confident that they can do the work or handle the new skill.
  3. Low trust— they believe that those responsible for the change can’t be trusted and when you do not believe in your leadership team or your company, there is likely to be resistance.
  4. Poor communication — communication is key in change. If employees are not well informed and you do not have a good communication with them then they will likely not follow your message and be convinced by your message.
  5. Change itself— change will surely require us to do things differently and most employees do not like this. They are comfortable doing what they have always done.

There are two types of resistance:

Overt Resistance – this can be verbal resistant or nonverbal resistance. You will know immediately where these people stand because it shows in their body language, their attitude, and their response.

Covert Resistance – this is similar to being passive aggressive. People say they will accept the change and like the new idea at first. However, in the process, they ignore it, resist it, go slow or white ant the process in the background. They are covertly trying to make the change fail. It is like smiling to a person in front of them and behind their back you let everyone know that you do not like that person.

Change is always difficult for everyone. While we fear new things and new ideas, we also know that change is a constant thing in the world. Change is ongoing and inevitable.  It is more a matter of how well and how effectively you deal with change as a leader and a team member.

Leading people to embrace and accept change is one of the key in dealing with resistance. So as a leaders and agent of change, do you :-

  • Clarify the change process and compelling reasons behind the change
  • Ensure people are upskilled and ready for the new duties
  • Build trust through honesty and empathy
  • Communicate effectively, clearly and frequently and do allow people to express their concerns to you
  • Paint a vision of the new world that shows the new way will be better than the old way assuring people that they will again become comfortable in their rolls.

Remember that change will create resistance from some people. And dealing with that resistance early and effectively, rather than avoiding this difficult conversation, will reduce resistance and set the scene for an effective change.

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