Resistance to change

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Change Management Institute UK event – Addressing resistance to change

Fantastic event by People Deliver Projects who sent along their A-team to give us a thought provoking and interactive session on negotiating through resistance. It was a true master-class, as they told a story of a Change Manager who was failing to make connections with those his project most impacted, and their inevitable resistance to the change.

This is a personal account of what I got out of the evening, so for all those of you who were also there, please add your comments, but my main takeaways were:

Creating a plan of how you are going to engage with people isn’t a bad thing – very often when I am training skills and techniques for making change happen, there is a feeling that preparing a conversation is a bad thing. The assumption is that conversations will not be natural if they are planned, and that as we talk to people every day, it is not a skill that needs to be practiced. This is not my experience.

I often have to deliver challenging and sometimes upsetting messages to staff affected by change, and I routinely have to negotiate the scope of the change, get agreement on who is going to do what, and when they are going to do it. To have any hope of success, I plan what I am going to say, so that I capture the key content that I do not want to forget, but so that I can also plan all the questions I want to ask to really understand and create empathy between me and the others in the conversation.

This is a picture of the plan that my companion and I created during the event, as the story developed and we worked out that the Change Manager was not following any structure in trying to build his relationships:

I am a big fan of “ask don’t tell” when it comes to communications and the People Deliver Projects team demonstrated this by their re-enactment of a typical set of meetings throughout the life of a change.

They prompted us to develop our empathy by considering what the emotional undercurrent might be for those we are engaging with. These included:

  • Fear of the unknown, and fear of the future being described
  • Insecurity about their ability to perform in the future
  • Lack of confidence about their abilities
  • Worry about taking on more volume of work
  • Feeling invalidated or diminished as they lose their current knowledge and skills and have to start again

The team shared an insightful table of the different types of resistance to change that we might encounter which I personally found a brilliant summary and so helpful for spotting what is happening right in front of me. They gave a range of actions that someone resisting change might take within these 5 headings:

  1. Reject
  2. Dilute
  3. Evade
  4. Deceive
  5. Deny

Finally the event covered some fantastic work on the different positions we hold when we enter into conversations, not realising that this is a barrier to effective communication. For example, too often we as change professionals come into the conversation all excited about the change we are going to make happen, when actually we need to be far more aware of the potential havoc our change could create in the smooth running of “business as usual”. As a result, we forget that the position of those we are communicating with is about preserving their status quo and getting through their workload, rather than excitement and motivation for implementing change.

I know from the conversations around me that a lot of people took this away as a key personal development point, to be much more aware of their own position in a conversation and how to park this and step into the shoes of those they are engaging with instead.

At the end of the evening, People Deliver Projects offered a free taster day in September, so if you are interested in this, please go to their website.