10 Tips to Overcome Resistance to Change

As organizations continue to evolve and work their way through the continuous improvement process, it is their employees resistance to change that is a major factor in determining their success. After all, it is human nature to resist change, especially when it comes to our work and everyday activities. Individuals like familiarity and consistency. Change is seen as a threat to both if not presented in the right manner. Here are 10 tips to help overcome resistance to change in your organization and keep you on the continuous improvement path.

10 Tips to Overcome Resistance to Change:

Change ahead sign 1. Make it Personal

One of the biggest mistakes you can make when presenting change to employees is to make it about the organization’s needs, instead of theirs. Employees don’t want to hear how great it’s going to be for the organization. Their first reactions are typically: “What’s in it for me?” “Does this mean I have more work to do?” So first things first, make it personal. Address the concerns of the employees first before moving forward to the organization’s benefits.

2. Connect the Change to Concerns They Already Have

A study by the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions showed that if you can connect the need for change to other issues that people already cared about, your chances of overcoming resistance can be significantly increased. Connecting the change to direct issues like health, safety, job security, and other issues that impact your employees, they will be less likely to see them as demands, opening them up to the change being requested.

3. People Have a Natural Desire to Avoid Loss

Instead of focusing on what they have to gain, focus on what they stand to lose. It’s a survival trait that has kept humans on the defensive throughout our development. It’s why we tend to walk in and out of a comedy, but stay on the edge of our seat throughout a scary movie. Therefore, it can be in your best interests to avoid just telling people what they stand to gain and instead emphasize what they stand to lose if they reject the change.

4. Avoid Lofty Expectations

If an employee deems the change to be far beyond their abilities, then they are less likely to take the change serious. Most individuals have a specific set of expectations that fit into their frame of mind while in the workplace. If you set your expectations beyond their frame of mind, then they will ultimately lose interests in the change a resort back to their old ways.

5. Group Your Audience Accordingly

Presenting your message to a group of people who share basic opinions is much easier than presenting  your message to a group of people with diverse opinions. This may be the most difficult task to accommodate, but with enough information, you can group your audience according to their backgrounds and opinions in order to get your message across in the most effective manner.

The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old, but on building the new.


6. Use People’s Bias to Your Advantage

People have a tendency to see things that are happening now as more urgent then things that will happen in the future. This can also be described as “discounting the future.” When trying to convince someone that change is needed, it is important to stress the immediate threats and losses as opposed to what could happen down the road.

7. Change Needs to be Local and Concrete

People are less willing to accept change if they see it as a means to please or satisfy something or someone outside of their organization. Make an effort to show that the change is about improving your organization locally and will have a direct impact on the people around them. If you can show them concrete examples of how and why the change will impact them locally, they are more likely to accept it as the new norm.

8. Everyone Learns Differently

Some learn by doing, others learn by reading, some prefer numbers, others prefer images. The point is, everyone learns differently. The brain has two sides and each side is very unique in how it processes information. The left side is more analytical and controls the processing of quantitative information. The right side is experiential and controls the processing of emotional information. To present change in the most effective manner, you have to appeal to both sides of the brain. Here are a couple tips to do so:

  • Combine analytic information with appealing imagery content which could include videos, metaphors, personal testimonies, real-world analogies, and concrete comparisons.
  • Use personal experiences to create emotional responses.

9. Don’t Overwhelm

People already have an overwhelming amount of worry in their life, you don’t need to overwhelm them with more. Most people can only attend to a limited number of things at one time. The use of emotional appeals is good up to a point, but avoid overusing them for fear of loosing the employee’s ability to contain and use the information effectively.

10. Identify the Pros and Cons Ahead of Time

Not all changes are created equally. Some will have a tremendous upside from the start and others will take a lot of pain and suffering before they begin to have a positive impact on the organization. It is important to understand and be able to explain the pros and cons ahead of time to your staff. This will help alleviate any doubts that may arise during implementation times.

Information for portions of this post came from Dr. Anthony Marker of Boise State University in article on 10 Strategies You Can Use to Overcome Resistance to Change.

Additional Resources