dr carl robinson

The Currency of Success - Interpersonal Intelligence™

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How to Handle Resistance to Change

In any organization, there are people who are opposed to change in any form. They have worked within a specific structure for years and sometimes have even helped to create that structure. They are either passively or actively opposed to structural or policy change, feeling it may affect their job security or their authority. An individual like this will often guard his or her “turf” fiercely.

When you are dealing with people who are resistant to change, it is important to identify and address their concerns if you want to ensure the success of any new initiatives. There are generally two ways to work with people who may resist or derail your efforts:

  1. Address Resistance: You work to change their position/point of view.
  2. Create Workarounds: You find ways to work around them.

Picking the right method for your “resistors” will depend upon the type of individual you encounter. That’s why knowing different personality types is so important.

Resistant Personality Types (and how to handle them)

When it comes to persuading people to join your campaign for change, it often means catering to different personalities. While this can be time-consuming, it can prove fruitful when you have everyone on board and moving forward.

The most common personality types you’ll see in resistors to change include:

  1. What’s in it for me?

This individual believes too much is at stake and is threatened by any change. To convince them to get on board, you need to focus on: a) how your proposals will improve their situation while lowering risk, and b) why current conditions are untenable. You’ll need to demonstrate how they can support the change and contribute to the future state of the organization, or explain (professionally) that it will happen without them.

  1. The Wheeler-Dealer

This person is primarily interested in quid pro quo benefits of supporting your efforts. For example, the Vice President of Human Resources might “recommend” releasing additional funding to make it easier to recruit extra accounting personnel, which would help your change initiative to upgrade the financial systems.

If the request is mutually beneficial, you may consider complying to reroute their resistance. On the other hand, you may need to recruit the assistance of your CEO or division leader to accommodate demands (or to find a workaround).

  1. The Prima Donna

This person generally believes he or she is instrumental in the success of the company. They will invariably point out why your ideas are problematic and will repetitively refer to their expertise. This will cause others, including the CEO, to react with caution and/or second guess you.

The best defense, in this case, is to discuss the problematic issues in a group setting (e.g., an executive team meeting). Focus on probability and acknowledge that, while Prima Donna’s concerns may have a legitimate basis, those potential outcomes have a low probability of happening and are non-fatal.

Draw a parallel to how the organization has effectively handled similar risks in the past. Provide information about how you can address any concerns so that others involved in decision-making will move forward.

  1. The Passive Aggressive

This person will cloak their criticism by claiming to advocate for the best interests of the organization. The major challenge in dealing with them is that, even after you think you’ve won them over or worked around them, the Passive Aggressive will invariably “forget” to follow through with their end of the deal or provide some other plausible excuse. For example, they might say, “We’ve been buried and simply haven’t had the time to follow through. We’ll hop right on it.” Meanwhile, another three weeks go by without forward movement on the project or program.

With the passive aggressive person, you’ll need to assemble the facts and lay them on the table. You’ll also need to cut off any possible escape. For example, you might say, “You agreed to provide us with X by last Friday. There appears to be a problem that we can’t resolve. Let’s discuss this with your (or our) boss.” They will never admit that they have passively resisted, but they will need to learn that they can’t maneuver around you without consequences.

  1. The Worriers

The major source of resistance will come from people who are not actively opposed, but who are simply anxious about change. You can’t ignore them because they will be easily swayed by anyone who taps into and exploits their anxiety (see the types above). That’s why communication is key.

Most people are reassured when you simply offer them a coherent game plan. This lets them know their role, your role, and what’s going to be happening. Begin by communicating to your employees, fellow executives, and direct reporters:

  • Your general game plan for the next 3-6 months
  • What results you hope to achieve
  • What’s in it for them
  • How you plan to measure progress
  • What hurdles might be encountered
  • How to ask questions/raise concerns properly

This will calm anxiety and give people tangible ways to get involved.

Juggling Resistance and Valid Input

Obviously, dealing with difficult people is a complex process, but it’s also important to meet and address resistance as a leader. Without criticism, you will not grow, and you may genuinely overlook something another member of your team can illuminate for you.

You have to learn how to deal with each person, even those who are difficult and resistant. Knowing how each person ticks will help you get more people behind you rather than blocking your path.


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