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Whenever human beings are exposed to change at work (or at home, at play or in relationship), resistance is a natural and common phenomenon. Even if change is the “solution” one needs to plan for resistance.

The important question is: “Can you risk not dealing openly, honestly, directly and self-responsibly with resistance?” The challenge with change is how one adapts to and how one makes change sustainable; the flip side of which is: what gets in the way of adapting, and sustainability?

Generally speaking, there are three strategies folks use to deal with resistance to change. The first is, the “Nike” way – just do it. A second is the “go along to get along” strategy. And the third is to create change yourself with the notion that if I create it, I won’t resist it at the same time. Hmmm

Some common tactics folks use when dealing with one’s own, or others’, resistance to change include conversations, confrontations, assessments, 360 feedback, anger management classes, criticism and “guilting,” bribery, threats, training, EAP programs, coddling, juggling  title/position and the like.

The downside of such strategies and tactics is, as often as not, they result, not in true and real change, but in compliance – going along to get along, no true and real commitment, buy-in or sincere engagement. The difficulty with compliance is, it’s often passive-aggressive and results in unhealthy and deceptive behaviors. The resistance is not reduced or lessened and, before long, resistance will rear its ugly head again.

Such strategies and tactics deal more with the symptoms of resistance than the resistance itself. And the only open, honest and direct way to deal with resistance is to deal with the root cause of resistance, which is fear


People’s three greatest needs are: control, recognition and security. When these needs are threatened, people resist. Generally speaking, primary reasons people resist change are the fear of:

  • how it will be affect me
  • something unfamiliar
  • the unknown
  • giving up control
  • the “new me”
  • giving up the “old me” – i.e., my identity

The real or perceived loss of control, recognition or security (mentally, emotionally, physically, psychologically, socially, financially…) is what’s underneath resistance, notwithstanding the fact that people will go to great lengths to create rationalizations, justifications, excuses, and “stories” to support their resistance  – looking to and pointing to something or someone outside themselves as the “reason” for the resistance. It may be an external symptom triggering resistance but the real cause is always “inside.”

What causes the fear?

The cause of the fear is perception. Perception is how we orient to our world based on our experience, our memory and our history. If we brought everyone who is reading this into a room and proceeded to show a movie of the world going by, in real-time, it’s quite likely each individual in this room would have a different “interpretation” of what is happening based on their individual experience, history and memory.

So, when we experience change, the way we interpret it results in whether we engage in an action or reaction, a positive move forward vis-a-vis the change or a knee-jerk type of resistance based on how we’re programmed or wired to deal with change.

Each of us secretly believes that our perception of reality is the “accurate perception.” And if I believe my perception of reality is the “accurate” perception, then what does that say about your perception? This causes conflict and resistance.

Each of our perceptions determines what we experience and how we interpret what we experience. So, when one is resisting change, it’s most often because the change one is experiencing runs “counter” to how we believe the world should be.

The antidote

The antidote to dealing with resistance to change is not to deal with the surface behaviors, but to deal with the root cause – fear.

This is often where many “change management” folks stop dead in their tracks with a “deer the headlight” startle (fight, flight, freeze or faint) response. They say it’s messy, uncomfortable, “new-agey, touchy-feely, “fluff…”. In essence, these are the defensive stances they assume because dealing with emotions is uncomfortable.

My take in my experience is that until or unless organizations legitimize dealing with emotions and feelings, foster open and honest communication about feelings and support employees to express their feelings absent overt or subtle push-back, the negative emotional undercurrents that prevent any organization from becoming a healthy organization will continue to adversely affect morale, performance, production, success and profits.

Some questions for self-reflection:

  • If you were to look down from 10,000 feet and reflect on your relationship with change over the past day, week, month or year, what do you notice about yourself? What would others say about you?
  • Are you generally open, positive and curious about change? Are you more negative and resistant? What keeps you from looking at change more positively?
  • What change(s) are you facing in your life at this moment? Are you open or resistant? Why? Really, really, why?
  • If you’re currently resisting a change, is the root cause related to the fear of loss of control recognition and/or security? How so?
    How did your parents or primary care givers deal with change when you were growing up?
  • How do you generally deal with your feelings of discomfort?
  • Do you become defensive when things don’t go your way? What would others say about you?
  • My definition of change is “Becoming comfortable with your discomfort.” What/how do you feel (sense your body) on reading that? Why?
    (c) 2014, Peter G. Vajda, Ph.D. and True North Partnering. All rights in all media reserved.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to share this reading with you and I hope you find it insightful and useful.
Perhaps you’ll share this with others, post it on a bulletin board, and use it to generate rich and rewarding discussion.

What is the one thing that is keeping you from feeling successful, happy, confident, in control or at peace as you live your life – at work, at home, at play or in relationship? Maybe you know what that “thing” is…maybe you don’t. You just have a feeling that something has to change, whether or not you embrace that change. And how would that change support you to show up as a “better you?”

I’m available to guide you to create relationships that reflect honesty, integrity, authenticity, trust, and respect whether at work or outside of work. I support you to focus on the interpersonal skills that enable you to relate to others with a high level of personal and professional satisfaction – unhampered by personal inconsistencies, beliefs, “stories,” and behaviors that create barriers to a harmonious, pleasant, conscious, compatible, healthy and productive relationship.

I coach by phone, Skype and in person. For more information, 770-804-9125, or pvajda(at)
You can also follow me on Twitter: @petergvajda.