Resistance to change seems to always get a bad wrap. This is especially true when you are trying to manage change in the workplace, but consider this
To fly we must have resistance
Maya Lin

It strikes me that Maya Lin has the right approach to how we view change resistance. We should shift our thinking by focussing on the positive role of resistance to change.

In order to get airborne NASA identifies four forces
  1. thrust versus
  2. drag
  3. weight versus
  4. lift
Without these separate but competing forces planes wouldn’t fly. These dynamics recognise and work with opposites – so why shouldn’t change management take a leaf from this book.

Resistance to change is not all bad

Resistance is often seen as negative if you confront it when making changes at work. The goal often is to tackle this resistance head on and gain agreement, and even support, for the change.

But what would happen if we actually sought to work with this resistance? If we sought to use this phenomenon to support our change journey? What might we gain from this shift in thinking?

People are reluctant to change because it often means going from the familiar to the unknown. Why would you do this without a compelling reason?

The challenge is to provide these staff with a compelling reason to change. To do this you must understand what is comforting about the familiar. We must also understand what is uncomfortable about the new.
It is an unwise change manager who ignores the views of resistors. There will always be a kernel of truth in the reasons behind the resistance to change. Explore it.

Armed with these insights we are better able to respond to or change our strategy. This is where and why ‘resistors’ are allies and your strategic partners.

Challenge us to explain the why

Resistance challenges us to explore whether a change is actually necessary or workable. They help us see what is useful and important about current work practices. They force us to look at how these important features can be included in the new approach.

Without resistors, we would have unfettered power to change the world of work – with good or bad solutions. Let’s make them better solutions.

Ask us to show our commitment

For many resistors their response is out of frustration with ‘the new and shiny’ trend. They’ve often seen managers and new work practices come and go and they have a ‘healthy cynics’ of the new.

They force us to show that this is not a passing fad, that we mean business.

Stalling for time and space

Resistance forces us to take it slow, listen, learn and craft suitable responses. Of course, this can be frustrating for change managers.

But this change in pace forces us to develop a more responsive and reflective plan for change. This might be through
  1. developing better systems,

  2. Implementing more detailed guidance or training, or

  3. providing more time to test the new.

Irrespective of the reasons for the delays our responsiveness to resistors provides all staff with more time to adjust.

Armed with more time they can better understand and achieve the change needed.

Pressure cooker release

Resistance also provides a legitimate outlet for the emotions associated with change. Informal or organised resistance gives people a chance to voice and vent. It gives people a chance to express their feelings, which they otherwise might not do without the resistors.

If resistance is managed with sensitivity and consideration it gives all staff a much-needed safety valve.

So don’t ‘react’ to the resistance by trying to shut it down. Think about it as the ‘air under your wings’ that enable change to fly.

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