Convincing the Resistant

by  Tristan Bishop  |  Leadership Development

People HATE change.


They loathe and despise it. They see it, abhor it and team up to fight it. Mind you, not all people, all the time. But certainly most people, much of the time.

People rebuke change. People will mock change. People will link up and gang up to stop change. The Gap found this out last year, through their new logo roll-out. It lasted a week, before it was rolled up and thrown out.

I’ve stood before torrential opposition a time or two this past decade. You see, I’m something of a “change agent” in my work. Specifically, I talk about changes I’d like to see in the Technical Communications and Customer Service functions. Along the way, I’ve explored ways change managers can inspire detractors and win over the reluctant. I want to share three of these ways with you:

1: Prove that Your Proposed Change Crushes the Status Quo

According to Harvard professor John Gourville, “People irrationally overvalue benefits they currently possess, relative to those that they don’t.”  Gourville suggests that a proposed change has to be “NINE times better than the incumbent option in order to motivate people.” This is because people pitching the change will “overvalue their new idea by a factor of three and people clinging to the status quo will undervalue the proposed benefits by a factor of three”.

If your proposed change is better, say so emphatically. But use facts, not rhetoric.

2: Prove that the Peril of Inaction Outweighs the Risk of Destabilization

Consider an evacuation notice for a hurricane. For some reason, even in severe situations, there are always people who simply refuse to evacuate. According to Rebecca Morss, of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, these people “just don’t perceive the risk to be that high.” People are weary of the “boy who cried wolf”; they are numb to warnings. They don’t believe that you’re painting an accurate picture.

If your proposed change will save them from certain doom, you must show exactly how and why.

3: Prove the Call for Change isn’t Driven by Self-Interest

Distrust of leadership has steadily grown for the past 45 years. For example, according to the Pew Research Center, the percentage of Americans who distrust Government has risen from 25% in 1958 to 80% in 2010! If four out of five people openly distrust the motives of their official leaders, why do you expect them to trust YOU?

If you expect your change to be trusted, you’ll have to show how it benefits those they care about, and prove you have nothing to gain at their expense.

You MUST Lead Change Anyway

Inherent aversion to change is the Gospel truth. It goes back at LEAST 2,000 years:

“No one who has been drinking old wine wants new wine. He says, ‘The old wine is better!'” – Luke 5:39 (GWT)

People are going to hate change. But change is so needed. I hope these three tips can help us to lead it.

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What People Are Saying

John E. Smith  |  18 Jan 2011  |  Reply

Hi, Tristan – interesting post.

In general, I agree with your well-thought out observations about change and resistance.

I would add that people are not as resistant to change as we tend to think. They are instead resistant to change which is imposed on them. Especially, as you point out, change which comes from someone they do not trust.

However, people change and do so happily and enthusiastically when they WANT TO. I do not believe this aspect is as simple as the “WIIFM” saying, but motivated and engaged people are much less resistant and will even insist on the change. See “Tunisia” for an example.

I believe that one of our leadership challenges is to identify and communicate why people should change. Your first point speaks to this, but I am thinking a bit more directly about how to get a person to see a “payoff” down the road to change.

After all, I learned to drive because I wanted the freedom and perceived “cool” factor. I was motivated and happy about changing from being a dependent (and rebellious) youth to an independent young man (okay, Dad still paid for the first car, the insurance, and most of the gas, but you get my point hopefully:).

Enjoyed your post.


Tristan Bishop  |  18 Jan 2011  |  Reply

Thanks much, John, I think you’re spot on!

It’s about the difference between “mandated” change verses “collaborative” change. And yes, painting an accurate but hopeful picture of the potential outcome is key to creating the “want to” within!

I do get your point, and I agree wholeheartedly. Grateful for your thoughts.


Gregory Hanson  |  19 Jan 2011  |  Reply

Thank you John. I couldn’t have said it better

Tristan Bishop  |  19 Jan 2011  | 

Much appreciated, Gregory.

Glad to know the message was of value to you as well.


Poul Andreassen  |  18 Jan 2011  |  Reply

There are certain things you do not realize until you read them, and through your article I have come to realize those few but interesting and effective way to leadership.

Thanks once again!!

Tristan Bishop  |  18 Jan 2011  |  Reply

Many thanks, Poul!

I’m grateful that you found value in the three suggestions. I hope they help you to powerfully lead needed change in your work and life.

Have a great day!


HeatherEColeman  |  19 Jan 2011  |  Reply

I love this post – very insightful, fun and motivational with regard to creating positive change.

I especially like this piece – when I read it, it sounded like leadership a la Dr. Suess: “People HATE change. They loathe and despise it. They see it, abhor it and team up to fight it.”

Thank you for a great start to my day – this post resonated with me. You are one of my favs!


Tristan Bishop  |  19 Jan 2011  |  Reply

Hi Heather,

You’re the first person to catch that and mention it to me. In fact, I actually WAS humming Dr. Suess to myself as I wrote this. I was going to keep the rhyme scheme going the entire article, but decided that was just TOO silly for a subject this important. :)

Change is possible and necessary. So glad to know so many working to make it so!


Susan Mazza  |  22 Jan 2011  | 

I don’t know,maybe the subject of change could use a dose of sillyness! I loved that phrase in this post too Heather.

Monica Diaz  |  19 Jan 2011  |  Reply

Talk about getting to the core of the LeadChange message! Yes, Tristan! I love your take here and find what you say to be true. Though, maybe it’s not so much that they hate change, but that road from here to there. That scary place you need to step out onto. That transition William Bridges talks so much about. So mostly, the three strategies you propose to “prove” will paint a picture that people can find enticing to move towards. A beautiful vision to aspire to! Thanks for a great post!

Tristan Bishop  |  20 Jan 2011  |  Reply

Thank you, Monica!

I heard today that “people just need time to mourn the loss of the familiar.” That made a lot of sense.

I appreciate your encouragement!


Chad Balthrop  |  21 Jan 2011  |  Reply

Hey Tristan,

I like the quote in your last comment, “…people just need time to mourn the loss of the familiar.” Great quote!

Something I admire about Apple, Inc. is how they’ve made ‘change’ such a core value for them. They would call it ‘innovation’. Like their marketing and product design, they’ve taken ‘change/innovation’ and elevated it to an art. Instead of dreading the change Apple die-hards can’t wait for it, they speculate and dream about it and to a large degree they demand it. They sometimes even bemoan Apple for not ‘changing/innovating’ enough.

I wonder how, in the organizations we lead, can we create this kind of atmosphere of innovation? How can we make change the exciting, momentum building force it should be?

Tristan Bishop  |  23 Jan 2011  |  Reply

Thank you, Chad.

You’re onto simething huge, here! When innovation is built into the culture, it becomes expected change. I think it’s unexpected change that is hated. Who doesn’t want a well-planned change for the better?

If leadership makes consistent improvement a core cultural value, teams will learn to revel in it rather than revolt.


Ted Coine  |  22 Jan 2011  |  Reply

Tristan, Thank you for this powerful post! I read it a couple of days ago, and had to ruminate on it a while before I could come back, reread it, and comment. That’s how difficult a thing change is to effect – and I bill myself as a professional catalyst for change, so…

Convincing others that change is actually going to benefit them is difficult to say the least. Think how popular Ken Blanchard’s book “Who Moved My Cheese?” is. My personal motto has always been, “Please Move My Cheese,” because routine is like a death sentence to me. But most people don’t see it like that – and the longer they are with an organization, the more failed attempts at change they have probably seen, so that they become cynical. Combine that cynicism with the endemic lack of trust you describe in your third point (often well-deserved), and you can see how change is going to be difficult at best; probably even impossible.

But it doesn’t have to fail: change must succeed, and done right, it absolutely can! Last night I had the great fortune to receive a copy of Laura Goodrich’s phenomenal new book, “Seeing Red Cars.” Pondering your post last night and this morning, I dove into her book and lo and behold, there in the very first chapter is an on-target discussion of this very problem, complete with thoughtful and time-tested solutions. I can’t recommend it highly enough: http://www.amazon.com/Seeing-Red-Cars-Yourself-Organization/dp/1605097276

Enjoy the book – and thanks for spelling out the 3 steps to winning buy-in of change!

Tristan Bishop  |  23 Jan 2011  |  Reply

Thank you, General!

As we speak, I’ve sent a team of commandos to move and hide your cheese. Good luck with that omelette in the AM!

I love your commitment to this topic and I’m grateful for the book recommendation as well. I’m off to buy it!

Thanks again,


Hemant  |  09 Feb 2011  |  Reply

Hi Tristan,

Wow!!! what a wonderful thought to start the day with.
This change issue has often bothered me and every time I use to yell it out in my mind… why what’s the big deal with change…didn’t we evolvle from apes to human beings! I never understood how I should convinece people to change. Your blog helped me realize few mistakes I made in my past. What I learn : You want people to do what they are not used to…be tactful and use the three golden rules :)



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