Why We Resist Change
Recently, I’ve conducted a couple of workshops on managing change and transitions based upon the work of William Bridges. Nearly all organizations experience and implement significant changes on a regular basis. It’s just a part of the world we live in today. Organizations must change and adapt in order to survive. However, this doesn’t mean that they do it well or that it’s easy.
The biggest mistake I see organizations and leaders make when implementing change is a lack of effective communication. People really need to understand why the change is necessary and better than the current state in order to fully get on-board with it. There usually has to be some sort of burning platform for change that makes it more uncomfortable to stay where we’re at then it is to move toward the change. Why? Because change is hard. It takes energy, effort, and involves loss – both physically and psychologically. Many leaders fail to recognize and deal with the losses that changes produce, and this is reason that many change initiatives are ineffective or fail.
Any time there is a change, there is an ending of something, and we experience a loss. In big organizational changes, there are significant losses that cause people stress, anxiety and even mourning. For example, when organizations undergo restructuring, people may experience a loss of security (what’s certain and known), sense of direction (where they are headed), territory (work area or tasks), competence (being the expert in their current role or responsibilities) and relationships (familiar contact with co-workers, customers, or managers). It’s not necessarily the changes themselves that people resist; it’s the endings and losses.
So how can leaders respond to these losses?
1) Acknowledge the losses openly and sympathetically. “I know that you are in a new role that is unfamiliar to you and that you will be losing a sense of competence and certainty and even working with a team that you loved.”
2) Show empathy by letting people express their frustration and grief, listening to them, and showing them that you care and understand about their situation. “How are you feeling about this? (Let them respond and then paraphrase what you heard them say.) So you feel a little overwhelmed and unsure about your new position? I can understand how you would feel that way. I would probably feel the same way if I were suddenly thrust into a new role. Remember that I am here whenever you need some guidance or just need to talk.”
3) See what you can do to offset the losses. “As part of your new role, you will be given…(a better title, bigger office, more resources, etc.)”
Remember that people want to be treated like human beings and feel understood. We are not robots that can just switch off and on. We have wants, needs, desires and emotions. In any change, we must deal with the loss that is occurring before people can move forward.
“To my mind, empathy is in itself a healing agent…because it releases, it confirms, it brings even the most frightened person into the human race. If a person is understood, he or she belongs.” – Carl Rogers
“The psychological equivalent of air is to feel understood.” – Dr. Steven R. Covey