Understanding resistance to change

by  Dr. Ross Wirth  |  Change Management

Is resistance to change truly irrational?

Many times, people being impacted by an organizational change initiative are called “irrational” or even worse by those leading the effort. However, even someone who is clinically insane is behaving rationally within their worldview. To themselves, people do not behave irrationally though they may be viewed that way by others. The challenge is to sufficiently understand their worldview in order to grasp why they are behaving the way they are. This resistance can then manifest itself in many different ways.

• Inertia – comfort with the status quo
• Timing – conflicts with other initiatives and/or priorities
• Surprise – proper groundwork has not been done so people are caught off guard (need for change not established)
• Misunderstanding – benefits not properly understood
• Cultural pressure – some who may want to change are held back by others in the organization
• Self-interest – conflicting personal priorities
• Differing assessment – conflicting agreement over the value of the benefits associated with the change
• Difficulty of change – organizational momentum and individual resistance

To close the loop then, who is being irrational?  The person resisting because of a factor known to the resister and not you?  Or you for believing everyone holds the same view regarding the desirability of the change?


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What People Are Saying

Mike Henry  |  12 Feb 2014  |  Reply

Isn’t it always the other person who’s being irrational? Or the one proposing the change? The person proposing the change must always make the case. However there are times when the case has been made and the majority has agreed. But a minority hold out. Is irrationality a majority-rule type of issue then? Mike…

Paul Cummings  |  14 Feb 2014  |  Reply


In my experience, I often see managers and leaders lose their nerve in the face of active resistance and change efforts inevitably falter. Here are six of the most common reasons resistance is so challenging: – See more at: http://bit.ly/13KRgQ6


Eric Bot  |  14 Feb 2014  |  Reply

Ross, I do agree with your behavior analyses.

I however for an organizational point of view would take a different approach.
Irrational or not to me would depend on the organizations responsibility towards alignment of values and beliefs.
I have seen people overcome or not even reach a stage of diversified views just by assuring proper communications.

To me any organization is a group of people working towards a common goal, this implies they all know the goal and know/understand/comprehend and unconditionally accept what their role is and how they should apply themselves.
Then as change happens ( which is a constant) they ( if properly informed as to influence and effect) will automatically adjust within the flexibility or goodwill you have already created.
These credits or room to maneuver are prerequisites for and within any organization.

have fun.

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