Creating support or removing resistance?
On the one hand, we know that
change can incur resistance. On the other hand, we also know that change is
healthy and in some cases, very necessary. For example, tasks or activities vary,
economic policies evolve or internal strategies have to adapt to remain
competitive in the market. Change processes often fail because employees
“do not want to participate”.
Research shows that up to 70% of these processes fail due to resistance. Is resistance always negative, or can we utilise the resistance to generate support?
Wissema found that resistance to change does not come from an inbuilt stubborn nature, but as a result of fear and misunderstanding about the change. Why is it necessary, and what does this mean for me? Usually, it’s difficult to pinpoint the cause of the resistance. By identifying where the opposition is, you can adjust your approach, so that you can convert it into support. Sounds simple, but how do you do that?!
The natural response to disagreement is to come up with arguments which prove we are right. The other person then puts forward their arguments and soon you end up in a ‘I’m right, no I’m right’ game. Convincing can be an excellent strategy for removing resistance, at least if your employees think and act rationally. Unfortunately, this is often not the case, so gentle persuasion does not lead to the desired result. What other strategies could you try? Nathans  recognises various acceptance strategies in her book “Advising as a second profession”. Some of these are:
- Providing timely and complete information
By informing employees in advance and preparing them for the decisions you want to make, you can achieve approval and support earlier. What is crucial here is clearly communicating why the change is needed. Insufficient information can make employees feel cheated at the expense of trust.
Offering help in some form. For example, by taking over tasks or arranging matters yourself so that you can overcome objections such as “we are far too busy for that”. Make sure that you do not go too far, because otherwise, the commitment may decrease. Don’t do more than is necessary for the progress of the change.
Focus on the relationship with your employees. An additional advantage is that change can also lead to an improvement in terms of content because employees often have relevant information. With the participation strategy, you ask about the underlying feelings of the resistance, and you ask for substantive input. This also prevents employees from feeling that you do not take them seriously.
Look for compromises. First, you must map out the interests of employees. What are the pros and cons? Discuss different options to meet the needs of different employees. You want to gain support, but resistance should never be a reason not to do something.
- Creating a common vision
Develop the change together by making use of the values, wishes, views and insights of the employees involved.
I recently had an appointment with a project group. We checked the agreements we had made, point by point, to see to what progress we had made. At a certain point, the group had encountered resistance. Someone questioned the agreement that had been made and he indicated that he had a different opinion. The reaction from the group was to exchange arguments, playing the familiar ‘I’m right, no I’m right’ game. By naming what I saw happening and asking where the resistance came from, we were able to talk to each other again. It wasn’t about who was right, because there was something else behind the opposition. By accepting the agreement, the person concerned was afraid that this was the start of a shift in responsibilities, with more and more responsibilities and tasks gradually being added to their workload. They couldn’t see the end of it.
By explaining what we expected of this person and why it was necessary, their resistance decreased. The person agreed that it had to happen. By then asking how we could help and coming to a mutual decision, we were able to move forward.
What I want to say is that there are several strategies available to eliminate resistance. One approach is no better than the other. First, find out what the cause of the opposition is and adjust your plan(s) accordingly. Understanding resistance can help you to turn it into support. Sure, we want everyone involved to be naturally enthusiastic about the change and to be motivated to contribute to it. But be aware that not every change has positive consequences, some things just have to happen. And no, that’s not always nice, be open and honest about that!
 J.G. Wissema, H.M. Messer en G.J. Wijers, Fear of Change, a myth! 1986
 H. Nathans, Advising as a second profession. Achieve results as a consultant, 2005