Overcoming 3 Kinds of Resistance to Change

Overcome 3 Kinds of Resistance to Change

Few things are more frustrating than leading innovation and encountering resistance to change in your team or departments connected to your initiative. You are here to move things forward, and instead of others seeing the promise of the future and joining you excitedly to create the next iteration of your company, you face lack of engagement, risk aversion and in the worst of cases even active sabotage.

It is a challenge to drive change. Especially, when you face resistance…

Fortunately, entire libraries have been filled with research and ever more subtle tools of persuasion. And beyond brute persuasion, inclusion and interpersonal tools have given us means to actually create win-win scenarios in which change has positive outcomes for everyone involved — a key skill for future leadership.

In a recent conversation with my friend, a long-term catalyst for change in a variety of organizations, we talked about a high-level characterization of change resistance. While there are much more granular dimensions (and she is working on a book on that very topic), here were three that came up in our conversation:

  • Inertia
  • Simple Fear
  • Complex Fear/ Ego Death

So let’s look at them more closely…


The person is comfortable (possibly in their discomfort) and simply doesn’t care about the change you want to bring about. They don’t have any need to move, and don’t see a future that is compelling enough for them to desire any change. Often, these people simply need impetus, an incentive. Something that sways them in your favor. It might be as simple as attention or concern for their interest, or might be a dinner or something special you do for them — including promise of a future favor, giving them social currency.

Simple Fear

The change you desire to create is potentially affecting something they care about. Whether based in reality or imagined, there is usually one dynamic or trend they are deeply concerned with. The issue might be personal or professional, it might be related to general societal trends, or unique to their lives. The strategy here is to find out what it is they are concerned with. Ensure you fully understand their concern and actively take interest. Then enroll them in finding a solution together. Use tools like appreciative inquiry to drive out a win-win future vision and ensure you both commit to a consequent action step — with the responsibility of building trust through action and fulfilled agreements in your court.

Complex Fear/ Ego Death

This is the trickiest on of them all. Here it is not just inertia or fear in the way of change, but a cherished idea of self resulting from a potentially complex overlay of beliefs and underlying fears. Your change creates an ego-challenge — not just to what they do or don’t do, but who they fundamentally think they are. In this case you need to create an opportunity for so-called imprint vulnerability, for neuroplasticity, a state where their mind and brain are pliable, and new ideas of self can be inserted. You get to spend some time on both seeding a new sense of self, as well as a safe space for the transformation to occur. You get to tell the caterpillar that it could be a butterfly, while spinning a cocoon of assurance around them that allows them to become vulnerable and build their wings. Then be patient and let the caterpillar dream of becoming a butterfly. Nourish the aspiration, and allow the transformation to occur.

Which category fits the person you hope will change? Use that understanding to reduce resistance and increase interest in your vision.

The first step is always seeking to understand the other.

I have written before about shifting from transaction to co-creating value. Unless we are willing to step outside of ourselves, we cannot create a field with others for innovation to occur in.

So, focus on the other, their concerns, whether imaginary or real, their vision for themselves — and if they don’t have one, support them in creating it, so you can move together into the future.

The future is being built by all of us.

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