Coaching People Who Resist Change
There are a million reasons to stay the same, when you feel pressure to change. In my opinion change is great as long as someone else is doing it.
Resistance is the point of potential growth. Consider a plant pushing through the soil in search of sunlight.
Exponential growth always encounters resistance.
7 sources of resistance:
- Lack of confidence: Resistance corresponds to unbelief. When you don’t believe in yourself, you resist making changes. Who wants to try when failure seems inevitable?
- Arrogance: “I don’t need to change. Others have the problem.”
- Bitterness: “I haven’t been treated right so I’m not going along with your plan.”
- Lack of passion: It’s not important.
- Negative history: “I’ve tried before and it didn’t work.”
- Defeatism: What’s the use.
- Fear of failure: “I’ll be embarrassed if I try and fail.”
Coaching through resistance:
The point of resistance is where fruit appears.
Listen don’t judge:
- Listening validates value. When you listen to someone, you tell them their journey matters.
- Listening restores humanity. Organizational life is often filled with instructions and directives that treat people like robots. “Just do what you’re told.” The more you tell people what to do the less human they feel.
- Listening allows exploration. You can’t solve another’s resistance. They must explore and solve it themselves.
Question don’t solve:
- If you took a step forward, what would it look like?
- What’s important about not moving forward?
- What’s important about moving forward?
- What imperfect behavior would you like to try?
- What’s important about keeping things the same?
- How might you keep things the same and try something new?
- What happens if you do nothing?
- What would you like me to ask you the next time we meet?
- What obstacles have you overcome in the past? How might that apply here?
- Who might be helpful?
What are some sources of resistance?
How might leaders coach people through resistance?
When I listen, it seems to validate their resistance. And they don’t feel the need to listen to me. From the hard core resisters, I found I just have to move on without them.
Thanks Duane. It’s true that sometimes we move on without others.
I find listening to help others see their own resistance to personal change may be helpful. But, as you suggest, even listening is the magic pill to help people change.
Good morning Dan!! Wouldn’t anger or frustration be on that list as well???
Sent from Vanessa. 719-237-2300 Have a great day!
Thanks Vanessa. Yes that makes sense.
And what is the source of that anger or frustration? These are responses to something else. Look for the source of the emotion to find a solution.
I kind of thought of the bitterness angle to fit the angry/frustrated emotion and that was linked to Listening and the Humanity piece.
Nothing saps your energy as much as dealing with this type of individual. They are a forward progress squasher. Thanks for opening my eyes with the tools you’ve given above. It is always good to have a clear understanding of where they are coming from and helps me to reach down a little further for that extra compassion that may be needed to better understand by listening and encouraging.
Thanks Steve. People have “good” reasons for resisting change. (At least good to them) It’s always helpful to help people feel understood. The alternative is we increase their resistance.
Great point Dan. When we feel resistance to someone else’s resistance and wonder why they aren’t hearing “us,” we are in the same resistance loop. Our relationships with other is always a great mirror. That has been my biggest understanding from looking under the hood of when any residual resistance comes up for me (even, and especially as a coach), then releasing it compassionately with greater understanding for self and other. Thank you for this blog post.
I think one of the main sources of resistance to change is fear of the unknown — that is, risk aversion. Many people feel safe if they know (or think) they can control life. Change strips away those putative controls. I have had employees (only two) actually dig in their heels and refuse to comply, eschewing all attempts to have them express their point of view.
In my experience, though, the techniques you describe here, do work for most reasonable and rational people. Thanks, Dan.
Thanks Steven. There are some people who refuse to change. We can find a place for them marginalize them, or eliminate them. Things seem more black and white in those cases.
True, but no less difficult from a human standpoint.
Yep. Good stuff. And, like Dilbert said long ago, “Change is good. You go first.”
AND, I might suggest AGE as another factor, given my long long long experience at being a human being. Maybe we just do not really really see any good reason to do anything differently. One could call it stubborn or one might frame it with “experience and perspective” but sometimes, even when we think we are operating as change agents, we simply do not want to go through all that re-learning and un-learning and re-framing and stuff…
I will anchor this to Tom Gilbert’s concept of “learned lazyness” that comes from his Human Competence book and his elegant thinking on people and performance. We do things the best way we can and the most ecologically sensible insofar as our personal experiences.
Or, we simply don’t care all that much! (grin)
Have FUN out there. Teach some caterpillars to fly, will ya?
Thanks Dr. Scott. I’m glad you shared your insights. It takes self-awareness for some of us to age and stay open at the same time. I keep telling myself to stay open to new experiences. My older self says, you don’t need any new experiences, you have enough going on already! 🙂
The Dilbert line is priceless.
This is great. I once did a conference call where I gave a lesson on the various variety’s of the “bad apple” employees. Sometimes my managers would fall short on each case though a similar situation is being caused by a different type of person. I remember receiving phone calls for up the three weeks after that con call from my managers desperately seeking some one on one counseling in how to figure our their own variety of resistance. I received phone calls through the remainder of my time with that company thanking me for introducing them to such a concept.
My degree is in education and the different types of learners is the very base and basic for practicing successful teaching habits. I took that into retail and always defined my staff by my own categories based loosely on the basic learning categories. This made it so that I could more easily train, challenge, and counsel each and every employee.
I hope this post is taken serious by those leaders who don’t even know they desperately need it. 😉
Thanks Shop. Your inclusion of learning styles is important. It’s best to use a Phillip’s Head screw driver when the screw has an “x” on the top. 🙂
Coincidently I just sat down in defeat from the search for our phillips head screw driver just now. 😉
The best of the new hardware has screw heads that accommodate both flathead and phillips screw drivers. But the Square drivers work better than the Torx, even. I think a lot of C-suite people prefer nail guns…
Give me a nail gun any day!! KaPow!! 🙂
I manage extremely large and complex construction and engineering projects. Every once in a while I encounter a Project Manager, Superintendent or Subcontractor who has a level of “I’m doing it my way and Billy be damned with you” attitude. If they have value I extract from them via questions what is needed to be done. Yes a bit covert, but some have a myopic view and don’t see the big plan; that’s my responsibility. So here’s my approach I’ve found effective for those types. Oh, and if their arrogance has no value, they are a cancer to the work and they’re gone before it breeds further into the project
Before I interact with this strong-willed individual I know my game plan. I have scheduled activities in the thousands and to allow such selfishness jeopardizes the work. They must become part of the team process.
So I formulate questions in concert with what is needed
At each juncture I elicit their comments on how it should be done via the questions I ask. Then within my own game plan I extract Means and Methods in concert with what the overall plan that insists what is needed. At a point where their approach complements the work its embraced
I also thank them, and ask them to implement that approach immediately. Some leave the complex thinking I showed that guy. Others become converts in thinking a broader picture.
The “I showed that guy” leaves the complex with me knowing two things
He’s doing it the way the project needs it to be done to be successful
And he’s got a fluffed out chest like a peacock mating thinking he showed us- who cares, I got his enthusiasm to execute the work, vs executing the project
Now we guide and let him show us. My multiple critical paths are now out of harms way and the quality of work in concert with scope/budget/quality and time is on track
My point, yes listening and receiving participation input is essential, but when that participant has a selfish myopic view, unless they embrace the plan, they become part of the problem
Sometimes kumbiya works, other times a more pragmatic approach is the effective route; that is the responsible of the Leader, no not Manager, Leader for those two entities are distinctly different
Thanks Don. I feel like standing at attention and saluting. 🙂
In a way, you are throwing a rope and lifting them out of the weeds.
Hats off for moving quickly to eliminate cancers. Of all the things leaders do, learning how to deal with people who aren’t on board is one of the toughest.
I read an amazing quote today – “When the student is ready, the teacher shall appear.”
Your post today reminds me of Kubler-Ross and the 5 stages of grief. Most humans do not like change; we inherently deny it, get angry at it, bargain with it, get depressed by it…and hopefully, eventually come to accept it. It’s so strange that we should be so averse to it when we are constantly exposed to it; every second that passes encompasses change! The key is getting to acceptance. For some this is easier than others. For others, it is a lifelong journey. Having a great coach can be instrumental in getting you to acceptance. Being able to express our discomfort and having that feeling validated is important because it makes us feel like we matter while we are swirling around in change. But ultimately, we need to be ready, open to change; that can only come from within. Only then can we absorb what we could not before.
I am embracing change today – it’s my birthday! Thanks for the gift of this post, Dan. : )
Happy Birthday Dr. Pinzon! I find acceptance is more difficult than you think. But, if we are fighting against reality, it’s pretty difficult to change it. Glad you joined in.
I’m intrigued by the suggestion: “How might you keep things the same and try something new?” Of course, it immediately seems like a contradiction within itself. If I believed that was your intended interpretation (I don’t), I’d suggest this is not your method of operation.
But I interpret it to suggest ‘Don’t ask for a complete revision of that person’s approach to situations / even values; I’d like you to consider one change consistent with your approach to situations otherwise.’
This post suggests the key point that others will contribute far more if they believe their thinking is valued!!!
Thanks John. Glad you noticed that question. It’s designed to help people grapple with what they are willing to let go and what they are willing to embrace. It also helps people evaluate the value of the things they won’t let go.
Isn’t it true. We open up to those who make us feel valued and shut the others out.
When I read the 7 Sources of Resistance, they all seem to point to two … Lack of confidence and fear of failure (which seems to point back to lack of confidence). I love how your questions go towards building confidence by not jumping in to solve and trusting that walking me through my own thinking with help me solve me own problem and build my confidence as a result!
An interesting read is the Immunity to Change book, which offers some really simple models to deal with the underlying fears and smoke out both individual and group issues. I am about half way through. Quite a good model, actually, and it essentially puts most things into the fear box. Fears around being perceived negatively or fears of losing power and influence or fears associated with learning or what have you.
I still have occasional nightmares around being registered for a college course and not knowing it — I’ve not been in college since the 70s… As Frank Herbert repeatedly said in the Dune Trilogies, “Fear is the mindkiller…”
Thanks Jenn. In my case, resistance to change is usually connected to some form of fear.
I suppose we should leave the door open for the idea that we resist change because it is just plain wrong.
“But this is the way we’ve always done things…”
Thanks Northside. Classic.
The interconnectedness of all leadership activities and responsibilities is made clear by the process of leading effectively during change, which these days is essentially constant. If work environments (internal and external) were truly static and unchanging, there would be far less for leaders to do and it would be much easier (though less satisfying) work. Communicating a vision of a desired better future and creating the road to that future is the unending responsibility of leaders, fine-tuning the vision and maintaining direction. Someone once told me that a jetliner spends 90% of each flight slightly off course as the jet encounters wind currents, weather, etc, (i.e. the “real world”). Correcting the course on the fly and managing the myriad of smaller changes in the scope of achieving the eventual goal is what effective leaders must do.
I think there is an 8th source of resistance to change and that is: I resist change because I don’t have enough information about it. If people know ahead of time that change is coming, they have the opportuntity to prep themselves, realign expectations and set aside potential dissapointments. I find people are more gracious and forgiving throughout the implimentation process if they have been given the early heads up.
A few months ago I changed a key process with my team. Some were excited for the new challenge, some worried and some flat out resisted and used the old process. At the time I didn’t realize how I mportant it was to listen and ask questions. A few weeks later we had to make some tweaks to the new process. I first explained why I thought it was important, then gave each team member the opportunity to vocalize their concerns. In the end an even better change came out of it, with everyone’s collaboration. Not only that, EVERYONE was excited, even those that were resistant last time. Great article and an important one.
Also I love your site’s tagline: empowering leaders 300 words at a time. It lets me know it’s a quick read, but a good one.
Communication is the #1 element of success in any change effort. Organizations with low levels of communication are unlikely to succeed in change efforts.
Thank you so much for this article! It does have good advice.
I had the chance to attend Coaching for Engagement and Coaching for Impact with Bob, I can only say his trainings brought my organization to another level. Always a pleasure to work with guys like him! You wont regret…