Recently, I posted Eight Telltale Signs of Resistance, in which I described some of the resistant behaviors people use to slow down or prevent change from happening. When we’re trying to implement change and we encounter these resistant behaviors, we often have three unhelpful responses that make it seem even more frustrating than it really is.
- We take it personally. After all, it seems like an attack on something that we believe is important or even on ourselves. It can feel like rejection, and we can become defensive. And then the change becomes a battle to win, instead of something to collaborate on together with the person who is resisting.
- We blame them for not changing. We fall victim to what psychologists call the fundamental attribution error. We tend to attribute others’ behaviors to their character, even though if we did the same thing, we would tend to attribute our behavior to our circumstances. So, we tell ourselves that people are resistant to change, or that they’re just being stubborn, even though if we were in the same situation, we would say we had a valid reason to resist change. Since it’s much harder to change someone’s personality than to change their circumstances, it seems like they are entrenched more than they really are.
- We focus on making them stop their resistant behavior. Because what they’re doing frustrates us, we try to make it stop. If someone is avoiding us, we track them down. If they’re making excuses, we come back with all the counter-arguments. If they’re pushing back, we strengthen our position. If someone is procrastinating, we remind them to the point of nagging about getting it done. Sometimes we get their boss involved. We try to overcome the resistance. The problem with this approach is that addressing the resistant behavior only serves to make resistance stronger, because the resistant behavior is only the symptom of the problem, and not the real issue. The real problem is the underlying condition that prompted the behavior in the first place — the fear of the unknown, or the lack of clarity, or disillusionment, or loss of control, to name a few. Unless we alleviate the underlying cause of the resistance, it will only become more entrenched.
When you encounter what seems to be a resistant behavior, take a step back to assess the situation as objectively as you can. Ask yourself a few questions: How is their resistant behavior affecting me personally? What story am I telling myself to explain their resistance? What have I been doing that may be making the situation worse? And what else may be going on that could explain their behavior? When you understand the experience of the change from their point of view, then you have something you can effectively deal with, and you’re better equipped to help them navigate the change.