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Resistance to Change

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

This is part of an extended management course. You can dip into it, or follow the course from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.


In the last couple of blogs, we have taken a look at how organisational change works in three phases, and how people respond to change. In this blog, we’ll focus on the ways in which people resist change and how you, as a manager, can deal with resistance.

Resistance is an inevitable part of people’s response to change and there are many reasons why people resist change. Dealing respectfully with that resistance requires that you can interpret the nature and reasons for the resistance, so the first skill to deploy will always be listening.

What you are listening for, will be clues as to what the source of the resistance is, so that you can address it properly. There are five levels of resistance, that lead to a simple, powerful model developed by Dr Mike Clayton (coincidentally, the author of this blog).

The Onion Model of Resistance

The Onion Model of Resistance

The Onion Model suggests five levels of resistance – each a little hotter and more emotionally charged than the last.

I don’t understand why we have to change

Resistance is often prompted by not recognising the need to change. People in organisations are usually only aware of pressures that impact upon them directly – leading them to say ‘we really must change this.’ But other pressures for change pass them by and it is therefore natural for them to question what they see as unnecessary change.

Address this form of resistance by showing why change is necessary

I don’t understand why this change

Even when people see the need for change, they also need to understand why you have chosen the response you have. You – or  another manager – have gone through a series of investigations and decisions to choose your response but others have been outside of that process and naturally wonder if there is a better way.

Address this form of resistance by showing why your response is the most appropriate one.

I don’t like this change

At times of change, people often focus on what they will lose, giving it more weight than the corresponding gains. This hard-wired ‘loss aversion’ is a powerful driver of resistance even when objectively, the loss is small and the benefit is great. People will also resist when objectively the loss to them outweighs the benefit, but here, there is nothing you can do aside from acknowledging, sympathising, and supporting your colleague.

Address perceived disadvantage by patiently demonstrating the benefit.

Another reason for this form of resistance is that people sometimes spot a flaw in your plan. They may be wrong or right, but you must listen and evaluate carefully, and be prepared to make changes if you conclude that your changes are not the best you can make them.

I don’t like change

Change is a part of life that we all live with, but some have a greater tolerance than others. Those who feel they don’t like change are again focusing on what they fear losing, or simply on the fear that they will not be able to cope.

Address this form of resistance by offering support to help people overcome their fears and thrive in the new environment.

I don’t like you

This is rarely as personal as it sounds. In times of change, people lash out at whoever they can, as a way of exercising old frustrations and grievances, because the stresses of change add to the pressures they are under.

Accept a small amount of this only and address this as the inappropriate behaviour that it is. Use assertive behaviour and your other skills for dealing with difficult behaviour to deal with it in the first instance. If, on occasion, this is not enough, use your organisation’s formal procedures.

Further Reading 

  1. The Handling Resistance Pocketbook

Other Pocketblogs you might find helpful

  1. How to Manage a Challenging Conversation
  2. Listening
  3. I can’t do that now
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Handling Resistance to Engagement

Resistance to Engagement in the August 2011 Training Journal

The August 2011 edition of Training Journal focuses on the topic of engagement.  One of the most challenging aspects for managers is when they want to generate employee engagement, but encounter resistance.  Luckily, there is a Pocketbook dedicated to handling resistance.

Handling Resistance

The Handling Resistance Pocketbook

Mike Clayton, author of The Handling Resistance Pocketbook, has written an article ‘Resistance to Engagement’ that builds on the onion model described in the book, to discuss why people sometimes resist such an obviously ‘good thing’.

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The book contains three versions of the model, for contexts of resistance to ideas, resistance to change and sales objections. Mike has developed a new version for this article.

Training Journal is a subscription only magazine, and access to the full article archive on their website also requires a subscription.  It is an excellent journal and, if you are a trainer or you commission training, reading it will be a valuable part of your CPD.

However, the subscription model means that any people interested in my article won’t be able to access it, so Mike has put it onto his Handling Resistance blog, in two parts…

Resistance to Engagement

People want to be engaged. They want to be treated fairly, to be consulted about what is happening, and to feel valued and supported.  Yet employee engagement initiatives often meet with scepticism, resistance and even hostility.  Why is this?  Can we understand the source of the resistance and build on this understanding to create positive ways to handle it?

Read more…

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Swift Trust–Why some Teams don’t Storm

One of the most familiar management models is Bruce Tuckman’s model of Group Development – sometimes known in the US as the ‘Orming Model’.

A Summary of Tuckman in under 100 words

Tuckmans Model of group Development

Forming

The team comes together in anticipation, enthusiasm, and uncertainty about their roles and their colleagues.

Storming

As they get to know their colleagues and leader, disputes arise over direction, leadership and status.

Norming

The team settles into productive work and establishes ways of working together.

Performing

Team members are comfortable with one another and understand their roles, so the team gets loads done.

Adjourning

The project comes to an end and team members go their separate ways.

For more detail on Tuckman, see the Management Models Pocketbook, or read some of our other blogs on the subject.

The Problem

One of the commonest questions I get asked is this:

‘Mike, I’m not complaining, but why didn’t my team storm?  We all got on with it and moved quickly from Forming to Norming and even Performing.’

My usual first answer is that ‘teams will storm’.  When the pressure for a new team to achieve quick results is lifted, the internal pressures will emerge and, albeit out of sequence, the team will storm.

Teams will storm

This is the Nature of Models

A model can predict or explain, but the nature of a model is to simplify.  This means that, by definition, it must be wrong sometimes!  The better a model, the less frequently it is wrong.

But neither this observation, nor my assertion that ‘teams will storm’ explains why they sometimes don’t storm at the ‘right’ time, nor more so, why some teams do not storm at all – yes, my assertion could be wrong too.

Swift Trust

My answer is hidden in an earlier Management Pocketblog, and in Ian Fleming’s Virtual Teams Pocketbook: ‘Swift Trust’.

The concept was first articulated by Debra Meyerson, Karl Weick and Roderick Kramer and is the subject of a chapter in the cross disciplinary review book, Trust in Organizations, edited by Kramer and Tom Tyler (1996).  Sometimes teams come together rapidly and need to work together effectively without the time it normally takes to build trust.

In some circumstances, trust can be built quickly and this, I suggest, is what delays and even stops the Storming phase.  In my earlier Pocketblog, I offered these six conditions:

  1. Presuming each team member has earned their place
  2. Trusting other people’s expertise and knowledge
  3. Creating shared goals and a shared recognition/reward scheme
  4. Defining a clear role for each person to play
  5. Focusing on tasks and actions
  6. Taking responsibility and acting responsively

Swift Trust emerges when people are willing to suspend their doubts and concerns about colleagues and just get on with a shared task.  They focus on their goals, their roles and the time constraint they are under.

Leadership Role in Creating Swift Trust

Leaders can help foster Swift Trust in seven ways:

  1. Building a great first impression in the earliest days – this will have a big influence on the team
  2. Building relationships from the outset and learning about team members
  3. Swiftly and constructively dealing with concerns and issues as they arise
  4. Creating a feeling that they are present even when they are elsewhere
  5. Encouraging frequent team communication
  6. Using private methods rather than public forums to deal with under-performance
  7. Recognising and celebrating achievements frequently

So here’s the deal

Your team doesn’t have to storm, but if you want to avoid it, you have to build trust: swiftly.

Management Pocketbooks you might Enjoy

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How to Understand Resistance and Handle it Effectively

Mike Clayton

Mike’s first law of change: “Resistance is inevitable”

There’s no getting around it, so all you can do is to embrace it, and engage with your resisters.  But how can you do so positively, and increase your chances of a successful transition?

That’s the reason I developed my Onion Model of Resistance, which I started working on back in the 1990s.  It helps us to understand the nature of the resistance we encounter and leads us towards effective strategies.

Five Layers of Resistance

There are five layers of resistance that we encounter and they are summarised in the image below. (click to enlarge)

The Onion Model of Resistance by Mike Clayton

What we find is that, as we uncover a layer of resistance, there is often another layer beneath it.  Each layer is psychologically deeper, it is emotionally hotter, and it is harder to deal with.

Harmonious Engagement with the Resistance

My Golden Rule for Handling Resistance is:

‘I will always respect my resisters’

This means I need to use a harmonious approach that does not clash with them nor seek to put them down.  Our instinctive approaches, to blame, bully, plead, fight, do deals or lie, do not work – or, if they do, are not sustainable.  In my talk – and in the book – I listed a dozen or so techniques, inspired by the principles of Aikido, a Japanese martial art, sometimes called the ‘way of peace’, or ’the way of harmony’.

Three things to remember

The talk ended with three things to remember:

  1. Resistance is part of the process.  It is inevitable.
    Don’t fear it: embrace it.
  2. There is always a reason for the resistance you get.
    It may not be rational, but you can understand it,
    and you can deal with it.
  3. Above all, always respect your resisters.

Management Pocketbooks you might enjoy

The Handling Resistance Pocketbook, by Mike Clayton

The Onion Model, how to handle resistance to ideas, to sales, and to change, along with a host of tips are all in the Handling Resistance Pocketbook.

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You may also like:

For more on the Onion Model…

…take a look at this earlier blog, on Handling Sales Objections.

The Golden Rule for Resistance: "I will always respect my resisters"

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Handling Sales Objections

In last week’s Pocketblog, we looked at one way to make a sale.  But often it isn’t the selling that defeats us: it’s the objections.

CIPD HRD Exhibition

Resistance gets us every time and this is the topic of the Management Pocketbooks Learning Arena Session at the CIPD HRD Exhibition on 6 April.

At that session, I will be speaking on:

‘How to Understand Resistance and Handle it Effectively’

I will speak at 10am, and then return to the Management Pocketbooks stand (Number 571) to meet readers and answer questions.  As well as being the editor and principal author of the Management Pocketblog,  I am also the author of the Handling Resistance Pocketbook.

At the stand, you can get all of the Pocketbooks at the special exhibition rate of £1 off, and if you buy five, you can get a sixth one free – that’s six pocketbooks for £34.95.

Resistance to Sales

I will be speaking about resistance to change at HRD, but to follow from last week’s blog, let’s take a look at how my ‘Onion Model of Resistance’ applies to objections to sales.

OnionModelSalesResistanceL4

The Onion Model

The Onion Model sets out the layers of resistance we encounter – whether to our ideas, to change, or to our sales proposals.  As an example, here is a video of me talking about the fourth layer of resistance to a sale; when the potential customer says something like:

‘I don’t like your proposal.’

In this short video, I am talking about this level of resistance, and illustrating it with an example.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YmEMdscBpR0]

So here’s the deal

Your job, when you encounter resistance, is to engage with it in a positive way.  Identify what level the resistance is at, then deal with it appropriately.  When you handle resistance effectively, it will often just melt away.

The Handling Resistance Pocketbook

The Handling Resistance Pocketbook, by Mike Clayton

The Handling Resistance Pocketbook covers:

  • How to understand resistance
  • The importance of a sound process
  • Ways to start persuading
  • The power of language and questioning
  • Resistance to change
  • Sales objections
  • Conflict
  • The psychology of resistance

My Handling Resistance blog is at HandlingResistance.com

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