It never fails. You go to roll out a new program or process and then you start to hear the grumblings about why it can’t be done. Don’t they understand we are trying to improve the company? Can’t they see the logic and rationale as to the reasons we need to do this?

The answer is a simple yes, and no.

Understanding why people resist change, even when that change is obviously good for them, can be bewildering and frustrating. The underlying principle for resistance is often quite uncomplicated as people justify their resistance to themselves. The fact is—it’s less about the change and more about being changed.

If you want to overcome resistance to change, you must understand its origin. Let’s examine 10 reasons why change is resisted within your organization.

Reason 1: I fear the unknown. Change is defined as causing to be different. This implies vagueness, and vagueness causes discomfort and apprehension. The confusion and lack of clarity may often create worry and concern, which scares us. It is Fight or Flight, and Flight might not be an option, so pushing back against the new change is a means for us to cope with this fear.

Reason 2: I need security. As humans, we require a certain level of security and predictability. After all, it is comforting to know that tomorrow looks much like today and yesterday. When that security or control is challenged, it may present risks which could lead to perceived loss.

The longer we have been doing the same activities, the more invested and reliant we are in the security and certainty. We like predictability and hate uncertainty. Change may appear more as a threat … and less as an invitation. It’s natural for people to think, “I need to preserve that security, so I will resist either actively or passively.”

Reason 3: I am afraid of failure. The result of change may end in a new state that demands skills and knowledge that could appear to be beyond our capability. When presented with a challenge to our abilities and the possible loss of status or job due to that failure, opposition may be inevitable.

We want to be successful at what we do and the longer we have been doing certain activities, the less comfortable we are at embracing new skills. If things remain the same, there is less likelihood I will appear as a failure, allowing me to save face. I am less likely to fail at the new way if there is no new way. Change can appear awkward, so no change means no awkwardness.

Reason 4: I lack the trust. If I have been suspicious of you in the past due to your actions or inactions, I am less likely to embrace your new vision as to where we need to go. If you are embarking on a risky journey and I do not trust your capabilities or motive, I am less likely to follow. If you are asking me to risk much, like troops in combat, I need to feel you have my best interest in mind. If I do not feel that way, I may set anchor and push back. Trust leads to confidence.

Reason 5: I don’t see the benefit. If the change has little to do with me or if the benefits just favor the business rather than me and the business, I may not see the value of making the change. I must see a benefit to me to take the risk and make the investment in this new state. People respond best to their favorite radio station, WII-FM (What’s In It For Me?). I need to see how this is going to help me rather than just you or others.

Reason 6: I will have to leave my comfort zone. Many of us are afraid to pursue a new direction because it would force us to leave our comfort zones. We enjoy the status quo and it poses little risk to us. The common response is, “I have much invested here and change seems to threaten that investment.”

Reason 7: I disagree with the new direction. We may have false beliefs that everything is okay and therefore, there is no real need to change. If I believe we are headed the wrong way, I am far less inclined to follow. If we are lost in the woods and you tell me we need to head toward the left, but my intuition and gut response tells me we should be heading toward the right, I am opposed to moving leftward.

Reason 8: It looks like more work for me. We keep hearing the adage, “We must do more with less,” yet, that may not be appealing if I am feeling overwhelmed with work. In some cases, people may feel overburdened and unenthusiastic to assume more responsibilities and tasks. Additional workloads hardly seem like a reward for doing something new and different. Opposing this additional work seems to make sense to keep from burning out.

Reason 9: I am confused as to where we are heading. To feel comfortable with the new direction, I need to have as much information and details as possible. Without that information, I feel lost. If I am rowing a boat at sea, I need to see the land or have a compass to direct me. Many change efforts fail due to poor information and a lack of a clear plan as to how we will get there.

Reason 10: I see this is the wrong time. “We are really busy now so why are they trying to get us to do this now?” Or it could be “Business is slow so why aren’t we concentrating on improving that instead of this?” The timing seems to be off for implanting something new so it seems irrational to support such a move.


As management, we tend to have one view of things while employees may have another. If one person is viewing a wall from the outside, it appears to be curved inward. However, if you are looking at that wall from the inside, it appears to be curved outward. One view is concave and the other is convex … yet it is the exact same wall. We are both looking at the same situation yet drawing different conclusions. It is the variance caused by different perspectives. It happens all the time. “I see it one way and you see it another.

People will embrace change at different times based on their level of risk acceptance and how well the organization addresses these concerns. Logic alone is not sufficient to win most over to the new direction.

True change requires addressing the emotional concerns through constant communications, presenting benefits, rewarding the new behavior, coaching, educational sessions, and dogged persistence.

There is no single way to deal with making change, but understanding resistance helps.

About the Author:

Preston Ingalls is president and CEO of TBR Strategies, LLC, a Raleigh, North Carolina-based maintenance and reliability firm specializing in the construction and oil and gas industries. Preston can be reached at pingalls@tbr-strategies.com, or visit www.tbr-strategies.com.

Modern Contractor Solutions, June 2018
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