What to do when someone on your team resists change (part 1)

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Many managers are in the position of instigating and overseeing change on the team, with the intent that this change improves how things are done and obtains better results.

But managers can quickly fall into the trap of resisting the change they instigated by reacting negatively to the ramifications of change, and seeking to eliminate all resistances (a.k.a., complaints) to the change.

They do this by treating incoming complaints of the change agent as a performance feedback opportunity to the change agent.  This implies that the change can occur and without resistance and essentially undermines the change effort.   This is a wrong assumption – it’s like assuming that there is no resistance when you start a car and move forward.

So here’s what to do when someone on your team resists change:

1.     Listen

Allow the person to hear out the person’s issues with the change.  The only action is to listen to the issues or complaints that the person has.  Instead of responding to the issue, listen to the issue.  Say, “Thank you for expressing your concerns.”  Add some empathy, “I understand that this can be difficult.”

2.     Track the concerns

To prove that you are listening, actually write down the concerns.  Write them down in front of the person expressing them.  Tell them that you are writing them down.  Say, “I appreciate your taking the time to express these concerns.  I’m going to make sure I have your concerns tracked, is that O.K.?”

3.     Put the concerns in a central location

You probably aren’t the only one receiving complaints.  Upon the first complaint, this is your clue that there may be more.  Find a place for others on your team to document them.  Put them in the same place.

4.     Put a time delay on resistances before responding to them

Many complaints are reactions to the first hints of the change.  They may be founded or unfounded complaints.  The important thing is to respond to them in a measured way.  One way to do this is to put a time delay on reacting to the complaints.  It may be a day, a week or a month.  In any case, reacting to the complaint during the moment is empowering the complaint over the planning that hopefully was more systematic.  Don’t immediately bring in the change agent (most likely where the complaint is directed) and ask them to respond to the issue.


5.     Take a look at all of the complaints in a team environment

Note that I haven’t recommended ignoring the resistances.  Instead, I’m recommending packaging them and looking at them with an analytic eye.  When receiving a complaint about change in your organization, it is easy to respond emotionally and want to resolve the complaint right away.  Instead, find a structured time to go through this with the team implementing the change to assess the following things:

a)     Whether the concern is important

b)     Whether it provides insight on whether or not to continue with the change effort

c)     Whether it will fade over time as one grows accustomed to the change

By doing this analysis, you can better assess whether the complaints/resistances can give you insights to course-correct or stay on course with the change.  Some complaints may be very insightful and tell you the where the change creates new problems.  This may appear as resistance, but it is actually help.

In my next article, I’ll provide more steps to help guide your team through a change.

Related Articles:

What to do when someone on your team resists change (part 2)

Using perceptions to manage: How this undermines efforts for change

Are you asking a change agent to make a change, and then resisting the change?

A tool for how to tell if feedback is relevant to your job

What inputs should a manager provide performance feedback on?

When to provide performance feedback using direct observation: Practice sessions

When to provide performance feedback using direct observation: On the job

Areas of focus in providing performance feedback based on direct observation: Tangible artifacts

What managers can do about “intangible human-based artifacts”

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About Walter Oelwein
Walter Oelwein, CMC, CPT, helps managers become better at managing. To do this, he founded Business Performance Consulting, LLC .


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