The Absolute Most Common Reason Change is Resisted

After years of leading change I’ve discovered some things about the process. One of those discoveries is that change will face resistance. All change.

Surprised by that revelation? Not if you’ve ever led change.

If the change has any value at all, someone will not agree — at least initially.

There is something in all of us that initially resists change we didn’t initiate.

And, I’ve discovered the absolute most common reason change is resisted. I mean the biggest.

Would that be helpful to know?

I would say it is true the majority of time when change is resisted.

Understanding this reason can help navigate through change. Ignoring it makes the process of change miserable for everyone.

What’s the most common reason change is resisted?

It’s an emotion they feel. They may not even be able to describe it, but it’s more powerful at the time than the excitement the change may bring.

What’s the emotion? You may think anger, or confusion, or fear. And, while those are often true emotions of change, in my observation it isn’t the most common. I recently wrote 7 Emotions of Change — and it isn’t one of them. I was saving the biggie for this post — because all the others are often products of this one.

The most common emotion that causes resistance to change:

A sense of loss

People emotionally feel a sense of loss in the process of change.

Have you ever felt like you were losing or had lost something?

How did you react? Didn’t you try to hold on to whatever you were losing?

It’s not a good feeling emotion.

Loss of power
Loss of comfort
Loss of control
Loss of information
Loss of familiarity
Loss of tradition
Loss of stability

They aren’t always rational emotions. They are often perceived as bigger than they really are.

But, they are real emotions to the person experiencing the emotion of loss.

It doesn’t matter if people know the change is needed. They often feel they may be losing something in the change — and it causes them to resist the change.

And, because change is — well — change — their emotions are based on some truth. Things are changing.

I have found, as a leader, that if I understand what people are struggling with I’m better prepared to lead them through it. Some people are never going to get on board with the change, but many times people just need someone to at least acknowledge their sense of loss. It doesn’t eliminate the emotion, but genuine empathy allows me to keep leading.

When a leader discounts a person’s emotions — or ignores them — the resistance becomes more intense — because the emotions become more intense. That’s when some of those other emotions — like anger — are often added. The process of change is stalled — sometimes even derailed.

Leader, are you paying attention to the emotions of change?

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18 thoughts on “The Absolute Most Common Reason Change is Resisted

  1. Wow Ron. I am catching up with your posts on this topic (reading them in inverse order : ).
    Thanks so much for sharing this, I really hadn't realized this, that sense of loss. Now that you have pointed this out to me I can really feel it.

    I love how you said people can get stuck if the emotion isn't acknowledged. Thank you, this really helps.

    Thanks for your ministry.

  2. Loss of quality was my number one reason for resisting change in my first career (public education). Most of the changes brought by school leadership and political/legislative mandate had the effect of reducing the standard – even though it was presented as an improvement. Even the best of the change initiatives were just shifts in emphasis; I never did see one which was actually improvement.

    I still believe that I was right to fight those changes. However, it is very helpful for me to always put myself in the other person's place since when I propose changes, I need to "seek first to understand" the concerns being shared with me.

  3. One question I always ask when someone is proposing a change is "why?".

    If this is change for the sake of change, please hit the pause button.

    If this is change to solve a problem, avoid a problem, or honestly improve something then let's pray, talk and think this through.

  4. Great post!!! I think the ball was hit so hard out of the park, we can't even finding it floating the bay. The fear of change coming from the fear of losing, love the connection, one we don't see or hear about often.

    • Awesome. I love Compassion. I've been near your headquarters when at Community Church Builders. I think they used to be across the street from you guys.
      Twitter: Ronedmondson

  5. If you follow William Bridges (Transitions), he is very strong on loss as the biggest reason people have an initial resistance to change.