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Understanding and managing resistance to change

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Resistance is a natural response to change and recognising and manging resistance is a key skill for the effective change manager.

Resistance is a healthy part of any change process. Manage it effectively and it can strengthen your change initiative. Ignore it and it can quietly undermine all your great intentions.

Recognising resistance to change

How do you know if there is resistance to your change? Well, of course, sometimes people tell you quite directly that they're not happy or they're not going to participate in your plans. This might not be easy to hear, but at least you know what the situation is. 

Often, however resistance is less obvious.

Those who say nothing can resist as fiercely as those who shout. Silence never means consent and can be more difficult to manage than open resistance.

Others might question the methodology, again not openly resisting the change, but undermining the process by which the changes were decided and so weakening the change initiative.  

Then there are of course those who are just far too busy to implement changes. Rushing around frantically, continually texting and answering calls, they don't have time to make changes.

So how do we manage the obvious and less obvious resistance to change?

Managing resistance to change

Recognise resistance. Don't pretend it's not happening - it will not go away, but will quietly fester and grow to be much bigger than it really is. It is most important first of all to recognise and acknowledge the resistance.

Don't shoot the messenger. Just because someone has spoken out, don't assume they are the only one resisting - there may be many more quietly agreeing with them.

Open it up for discussion. Often easier said than done but if you recognise resistance, then ask questions and find out about it. Listen to what people say and don't think about whether you agree or disagree with them.

Understand their concerns. Try to understand what might be really worrying them. Does your plan have some real weaknesses? Could their concerns have some basis? Are they worried about their own capacity or skills? Whilst they might not want to admit it, is it possible that they feel they don't have the ability or knowledge necessary? Or are they going to lose status? Or control?

Give it some time. Allow time for the concerns to be raised and then work with your team to find shared solutions.

Motivation and resistance to change

Key to managing resistance is understanding motivation. For each member of your team think about what their motivation might be, how this will be affected by the change and how you might revise your change plans accordingly.

Page last edited Jul 25, 2017

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