Are You Resistance?

By Bill Wilder, M.Ed., Life Cycle Engineering

People fear (and subsequently hate) change. Therefore, they struggle against it like a puppy that hasn’t yet learned to put up with walking on a leash. And the only way to counter that resistance is to outlast it, saying yes one more time than they say no.

This is the prevailing wisdom in a lot of organizations. It’s also wrong.

In truth, people do not resist change. They love it. They seek it out. They sacrifice money and time to get it. Why else would they play the lottery or join a gym or do just about anything else they do? Certainly not to maintain the status quo.

So, if people want change, what are they resisting when they balk at an organizational, technological, or process change at work? Could it be you? Are you resistance?

People often resist the imposition of someone else’s idea, even if it would benefit them. They may be resisting you as the architect and/or enforcer of that foreign idea, even if you have only the best intentions. You pull; they pull in the opposite direction. Count on it.

And use it. When employees struggle against a change, ask them to tell you why they’re resisting. Some of what they tell you will be based on misunderstandings. Some will be valid. Some could even be compelling, highlighting important concerns -- and possible roadblocks -- that you haven’t yet considered.

As you collect feedback, you’ll probably discover that your employees aren’t resisting a proposed change so much as a particular pathway to that change, a pathway chosen without their input. Chances are there’s a path they like much better, one that they would gladly help you lay out on a map. Let them.

Once they’ve done that, the change is as much theirs as yours. They’re invested. They’re motivated from within, rather than without. Yes, you’ve lost a bit of perceived (arguably imaginary) control over the pathway to change. But you always have veto power over proposed paths, although you most likely won’t need the nuclear option. After all, if your employees come up with a path from A to B that works for everyone, why not take it? Chances are, your original plan would have evolved on the journey anyway (due to resistance, situational changes and other factors) so why not get some of that evolution out of the way now?

Not only will you have created a better plan from the outset, you’ll have done it in a way that engages rather than repels your employees and takes advantage of their natural resistance to your desire for change.


Bill Wilder, M.Ed is the founder and director of the Life Cycle Institute, the learning, leadership and change management practice at Life Cycle Engineering. The Institute integrates the science of learning and the science of change management to help organizations produce results through behavior change. You can reach Bill at [email protected].

© Life Cycle Engineering, Inc.

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