Organisational Development

#10 The “Resistance” Myth – Human Factor

I know that there is a lot of talk about resistance in the literature on change management. But when I observe how many change processes don’t work, I am not surprised that there is resistance. It is not because people are against change per se, but because they are either tired of having to change constantly without seeing any sense or benefit in it, or are not treated respectfully through the process.

I do not see resistance, only human reactions to change and the way it is carried out. Resistance to being pushed is a natural human reaction. 

Resistance depends on the force with which individuals are pushed. If they see it coming, they tense their muscles. If they are taken by surprise, they react reflexively to regain their balance. In the same way, people react to changes that they have not initiated themselves. The reaction of your employees depends on how strongly you “push” them.

In addition, everything is always a question of perspective. Whether a glass is half empty or half full is a subjective perception. Whether you see a vase or faces in the picture below is also a matter of subjective perception. The more people you have in a room, the more opinions you will have about a certain topic. Some will only see the vase, some will only see the faces. Most people will see both, and will not be able to make up their minds. Your task is to moderate the process and provide more clarity.

A question of perspective – faces or vases or both?

If everybody thinks the same, somebody is not thinking.

George S. Patton, General of the US Army in the Second World War

Neuro tip

One of your tasks in this phase is to arouse the employee’s curiosity about the expected change. Solving a riddle creates opiates in the brain. In 2006 it was shown that there are news detectors in the eyeball. In other words, push in an interesting direction, or better yet, if you direct your attention to novelty, curiosity will lead to a positive brain response related to the learning processes.

The art of the OD is to get everyone involved and on your side. How do you do that?

Start with a small group of people who are influential and well connected. Do not just work with your allies, but also with those who are resistant to your ideas. If these employees are convinced, they are the ones who will help you reach the tipping point and will bring all the others with them who are still hesitant. Be patient and don’t initiate the next wave before the first wave has reached the tipping point.

People always have a reason for not agreeing. Find out what it is and work with it! Dealing with human reactions in organisations is not an easy task. But if you address resistance directly, you increase your chances of finding the right access to the people you need on board.

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