Reality Check: Change–Like it or Not? Part 1

If you’re a person or group promoting a change that’s being met with opposition, it can be comforting to blame the opposition on the assertion “people don’t like change.”

When you believe that you are facing resistance because other people are stubborn or unenlightened, then you don’t have to question whether there’s a problem with the specific change you are promoting. You needn’t examine why you’ve been unable to persuade. You can contentedly believe that it’s human nature to resist. It’s not you; it’s them.

In “Take Charge of Your Life,” Dr. Wm. Glasser writes, “One of the most difficult lessons to master as we struggle to create effective change is to learn not to label something as bad just because it is different from what we want.”

Whether you are the person promoting change, or the person who perceives that they are being subjected to change, it’s easy to label the other side as evil or wrong because they don’t agree with us.

However, if we accuse our dissenters of being angry, uninformed, or backward, then regardless of the merit of the change, it’s not too likely that they will ever turn into enthusiastic supporters!

I’m not so convinced that people don’t like all change. There’s a change or two that I wouldn’t mind seeing; for example, I’d like to see the house change and magically start cleaning itself! Some folks would be delighted to have the change in their life that comes with winning the lottery. Others would happily accept the change of having aches and pains disappear, and so on.

However, there are also changes that people don’t like.

Rick Maurer is a change consultant who discusses why people resist change. Among his books is, “Why Don’t You Want What I Want?” where he details how to win support without stooping to manipulation.

According to Maurer, there are multiple levels of resistance to change. The first level is lack of understanding: “I don’t get it.”

If you’re the change proponent, then in your mind the need for change may be so obvious that it requires no explanation. However, the people around you may have a completely different picture and quite different priorities. They may view your change as unimportant, unnecessary, or counterproductive.

When the resistance comes from a lack of understanding, then you can address it by providing information. But as Maurer puts it, this isn’t the resistance that keeps us up at night.

The second resistance level is an emotional one: “I don’t like it.” The fight-or-flight response, that immediate “no” may come from fear—fear that the change will cause a negative consequence.

And some changes have significant negative consequences! Change often comes with a cost; proposed changes trigger fear of an increased financial burden, such as higher taxes, fees, cost of goods, etc. There can also be fear of losing something we hold precious: home, family, community, job or livelihood.

If those opposing your change are caught up in the fear of losing something precious, then responding with logic and information about the benefits of change is literally wasting your breath.

There’s a third level of resistance to change that’s even more difficult to overcome. We’ll look at it next time, along with some suggestions for how to win support for your ideas.

Do you recognize those levels of resistance in changes you’ve promoted or experienced?

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