Handling Resistance to Change

Karen Pryor is a behavioral biologist who created Clicker Training, a positive reinforcement method to modify animal behavior. Though she specializes in animals, Karen also understands the human reaction to change. Karen’s blog post “On Being a Changemaker” is excellent because these are the exact reactions we at wHolistic ChangeSM have experienced when driving change (from hoping we go away, to openly attacking us, to others taking credit for the change).

From Karen’s blog, people’s responses when you start to institute a change (in chronological order):

  1. Ignore you
  2. Pretend to agree, but actually do nothing
  3. Resist, delay, obstruct
  4. Openly attack you (the dangerous phase, but also a sign that change is starting)
  5. Absorb
  6. Utilize
  7. Take credit
  8. Proselytize

Karen offers perfect advice for change agents through all 8 reactions:

  1. Ignoring: Find allies and persist.
  2. Pretending but doing nothing: Find allies and persist.
  3. Resist / delay / obstruct: Persist. Get creative; find other ways to move the change forward.
  4. Openly attack: Be empathetic, but persist. Don’t take the attack personally, even if it is a personal attack. Change IS happening.
  5. Absorb: Continue to reinforce the change.
  6. Utilize: Continue to reinforce the change.
  7. Take credit: Let them; your goal is the change!
  8. Proselytize: Embrace your new allies, and perhaps leverage them if you want to change something else, too.

I recommend all members of the change team take Karen’s feedback to heart:

  • Value and stay close to your allies (Owners and Change Agents)
  • Persist through whatever obstacles and excuses are thrown at you why not to change, why not now…
  • Get creative – find alternate ways to get your message out and to reinforce your change (since it will take time before everyone has fully adopted it)
  • Take nothing personally – the resistance to change is about their fear of the unknown
  • Let go of your ego – if the change is the right thing to do for your company and your customers, it doesn’t matter who gets the credit

About Michelle Smeby

Michelle Smeby is CEO of wHolistic Change, Inc. with more than 10 years of experience implementing enterprise solutions at Fortune 100 companies. Michelle specializes in helping corporations deliver transformational change.
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