Change: Turning Resistance Into Resilience - Proteus Leadership
1300 219 903

Change: Turning Resistance Into Resilience

Change is going to happen in your professional life. No doubt about it. Some change is poorly conceived, ineffectively managed, and/or insanely implemented. The most successful leaders understand and implement the strategies outlined in this article, that turn resistance to change into resilience to change.

There will always be resistance to change

As a 20th-­century satirical novelist, Douglas Adams wrote in “The Salmon of Doubt”: “I’ve come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to changing technologies:

  1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
  2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-­five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
  3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-­five is against the natural order of things.”

I’m not sure how true that is, but there is a distinct division between long­term, seasoned employees and younger, more recently hired employees. The older ones tend to fight organisational changes a bit more vigorously, while the younger ones tend to accept the changes as “that’s just the way things are around here”.

If you’re about to implement some changes in your organisation (as a leader) or if you’re going to be forced to change (as an employee), you’re going to have some resistance. And why not? No matter how good or necessary change might be, you’re always going to lose something­ the work you do, the way you used to do things, the people with whom you worked, and a number of other things that “just seemed to work”. So it’s only natural to expect people to fight or resist those changes.

You CAN respond to organisational resistance effectively

Some organisations ride the winds of change, sail through the resistance they encounter, and seize whatever opportunities they can to move ahead of the competition. Other organisations mistakenly think that safety comes in bracing against the winds of change and the forces of resistance. But their rigidity often becomes a fatal stance. They will be shattered. As for those that think they can lie low until the storm passes, they will be left behind.

Quite simply, the leaders and organisations that know how to respond to resistance are those that not only survive, but thrive ­in good times and bad.

1. Comfort resistance

Some people cling desperately to the past because it’s familiar. They prefer their comfortable routines to the chilling thought of having to move to the unknown. Change always means giving up something, and the greater the personal sacrifice, the more people feel like dragging their feet.

How to turn it around – ­ Show the comfort resisters “A better way”

All too often, “comfort” people interpret change as your way of telling them that what they did in the past was “bad” or “wrong”. Not at all. The way they did things in the past may have been the very best way of doing things. But the world changed. And to stay competitive, we have to change.

Challenge them: “Instead of trying to hang on to the past, grab hold of the future”.

2. Control resistance

Another reason why people defend the old way of doing things is to maintain their personal stability or to feel like they’re more in control. They battle against change because they fear the future, not because they love the past. After all, if uncertainty and ambiguity eat on your nerves, you can’t get very pumped up about “change” and “progress”. And the more you dislike unpredictability, the more likely you are to protect the status quo.

How to turn it around ­- Let control resisters know they still have some control

Resisting change takes effort. These people need to know there may be more productive ways to spend their energy.

Let “control” resisters know they have a lot more control than they think. They’re just not seeing it or using it. Let them know that there is probably something they can do about their situation to make it a better.

3. Revenge resistance

A third group of people resist change as a way of getting even. They try to punish the organisation in retaliation for changes they don’t like. And the weird thing is, some people are willing to hurt themselves or their careers just to get back at the organisation.

How to turn it around Illustrate the folly of revenge resisters

The 20th century scriptwriter Douglas Noel Adams had it right. He said, “When you blame others, you give up your power to change”. In other words, when you focus all your energy on what “they” are doing wrong, more often than not, “you” end up doing nothing. You stop working on how you could change yourself or how you could help the organisation change. Your energies are eaten up by complaining words or acts of destruction that go nowhere. It’s folly.

Tell these “revenge” resisters, they’re probably going to lose the battle anyway. Oh, they may win a skirmish now and then, but the chances are very good they’re going to lose the war.

4. Well-intentioned resistance

Some change resisters are well-intentioned people. They see their organisation about to make a mistake, and they have the courage to try and stop it. While every organisation needs these kinds of people, all too often these resisters don’t know the whole story or can’t see the big picture. So even if they have good intentions, they’re often wrong and end up shooting the organisation in the foot.

How to turn it around – Redirect the well-intentioned resisters

Reaffirm the fact that we need them. Sometimes somebody else sees a cliff we are about to fall over that we never saw. We need their insights and instincts. However, if their resistance is based on nothing more than waiting for the perfect time and place to move ahead, they need to be reminded of William Feather’s insight: “Conditions are never just right. People who delay action until all factors are favourable do nothing.”

Encouraging resilience to change

Any change is stressful even good change. Whether you’ve just received a promotion, a job relocation, or a pink slip, it’s stressful. So you must learn to be resilient so you can handle any of your present or future changes. As the dictionary defines resiliency, you need the ability to recover from or adjust easily to change and misfortune.

I’ve found that some people flourish during change while others find change to be a continual struggle. Take care of yourself to be effective in times of change. Whether dealing with change yourself, or when encouraging these behaviours from your workforce in times of change, use these three strategies to build resilience:

1. Refocus

After a life change, it’s not uncommon to experience your situation as stressful, challenging, or unfamiliar. And it’s not uncommon to have such symptoms as headaches, backaches, or depression. So you need to regain some sense of composure.

You need to step back from your new situation … for a while. You could do such things as take mini-breaks by going to the gym or the movies to give you some distance or change your focus. You could plan a weekend getaway or just take some time for yourself. You could share a cup of coffee with a friend who will listen to your feelings.

Be careful of getting caught in a pity party, constantly complaining about the fact that “There is nothing I can do about this”. Well, there may be nothing you can do about the change in your organisation, but there is always something you can do about what is going on inside of you. Just remember, “What you are willing to accept is what you get”.

2. Refocus

If you are able to look at “the big picture”, you’ll gain a greater peace of mind about the change. Take time to think about what has happened, why, and what it might mean. You might realise that your feelings are mixed. For example, if you’ve been promoted, you might be pleased with the higher salary, but uncomfortable about supervising your friends. You may feel sad or angry about having to let go of familiar people and routines. With time, your feelings will even out and become more serene and positive.

Take advice from some of the stages. Remember the past but refocus some of your attention away from it. Gaston Bachelard (18841962) advised, “One must always maintain one’s connection to the past and yet ceaselessly pull away from it”.

Change your viewpoint. Instead of focusing on how much you hate your job, refocus on the fact you have a job. Alberta Flanders noted, “Sometimes only a change of viewpoint is needed to convert a tiresome duty into an interesting opportunity”.

And science backs up their comments. In “Monkey Business,” researchers S. Wright, M. Hager, and S. Tyink wrote, “When you change the way you see things, the things you see, change”.

3. Regenerate

Because all change is stressful, your body and your spirit need time to recuperate. So get some extra rest, eat properly, and avoid alcohol and nicotine. Increase your face time or talk time with your network of good, positive, encouraging colleagues, friends, and family members. Avoid the negative folks like the plague.

Regeneration may also mean you will have to deal with some of your own self-destructive behaviour that gets in the way of productive change.

For example, many years ago, I saw a documentary film made by Dr. Eden Ryl, titled “You Pack Your Own Chute”. At one point in the film, she interviewed people at random about their biggest problems. One woman said her biggest problem was getting to work on time. She said she was always 15 minutes late.

Dr. Ryl asked her if she’d ever thought of setting her alarm clock 15 minutes earlier. The woman said sadly, “It wouldn’t matter. I’m always late. It’s just the way I am”.

Admittedly, “personality” is formed early in childhood, and once the “grooves” are put into your personality, it’s not easy to change them. But, it’s NOT impossible either. It you have any “that’s just the way I am” statements holding you back from the very changes you need to make, STOP IT. Whenever you catch yourself thinking or verbalising those kinds of comments, tell yourself to STOP IT. And with repetition, you will stop thinking and behaving that way.

By Dr. Alan Zimmerman
Published with permission from the International Institute of Directors and Managers 
(IIDM) –


Proteus Leadership is one of Australia’s premier leadership training and development companies. Proteus Leadership provides leadership courses and management training to a range of industries and assists organisations to build positive workplace cultures, implement change and Create Great Leaders. Proteus also facilitates a range of world-class management courses, workshops, conferences and events across Australia and beyond with the sole purpose of bringing leaders together to connect and grow.

“Our core purpose is to Create Great Leaders that will in turn build Great companies and develop Great teams.”