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Recognizing the Forms of Resistance to Change

written by: Jean Scheid • edited by: Michele McDonough • updated: 5/18/2013

What are the forms of resistance to change? Are they something you can recognize and come up with a unified way to deal with resistance? What are the signs of group or individual resistance? Jean Scheid takes a look at how to deal with and identify resistance to change.

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    Watch for Signs

    Project managers with good change management skills will be able to identify resistance signs fairly early into any change. These early signs of resistance should be dealt with immediately to avoid the snowball effect.

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    Listen and Act

    An effective way to deal with change resistance is to listen and act upon denial or negativity as quickly as possible. Change Resistance 

    • Around the Water Cooler - Listen to what people are saying once change is introduced. Whether it's your break room, water cooler, or coffee station, people will be talking and some may even be fueling the fire to build change resistance relationships. Once armed with what you feel are the largest concerns, speak about them openly and let your team know you know what they are thinking. Ask for input, but make it clear: The change won't go away and everyone will need to come to a resolution to deal with the change.
    • Direct Defiance - Expect there to be defiance. Some people will not discuss the change. They will ignore it and speak strongly to others about how detrimental the change could be. As a leader, you must quash this type of person who resists change. Speak to them openly about the change and listen to their concerns.

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    Follow the Leader

    Often, signs of resistance will be found in individuals or people forming together as a group to ignore or defy the change.

    • Individual Resistance - Analyze the people who are resisting as well as their job titles. People who have higher-ranking positions and resist change should be dealt with first. Once you get this type of person aligned with the change, they can help you deal with individual resistance from lower-ranking staff.
    • Group Resistance - If you don't deal with individual resistance, you may find you have group resistance on your hands. If this happens, there will usually be a leader or two that have instigated the resistance. Speak with them first about the change and teach them how to instruct others about the need for the change.
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    Other Forms of Resistance

    Some other signs you may encounter are people who are considered to be saboteurs, attack leaders through arguing, or do nothing to endorse or support the change. If change is truly needed, these type of people are often the most dangerous.

    Any staff or team member that directly sabotages work tasks or processes should be confronted through employee warnings and documentation. Those who bring on direct attacks or argue with superiors about the change should have their turn to speak, but be confronted and controlled as swiftly as possible. The passive person who doesn't agree with change, ignores it, or does nothing needs to be change-inspired before he becomes part of a group resistance.

    The forms of resistance to change can be many; however, if they are quickly identified and controlled using good change management skills, you'll be successful. Stop resistance to change by being open from the very beginning about the change and make sure everyone understands the need for the change.