Minna Kivimäki: Is it time to forget about change resistance?

There’s a lot of talk about the resistance to change. Resistance to change can refer to the people actively opposing the change: talking negatively about the change and praising old habits. Resistance can also be passive: there’s no talk of the change and everyone quietly keeps to their old ways. The result is the same: the change is not progressing.  

In these situations, people driving the change typically start to plan how to manage resistance, i.e., how to resist resistance.  Alternatively, it has been planned already in advance on how resistance to change can be managed when / if it emerges.  

”People don’t resist change. They resist being changed.” 

What if we could forget all about the resistance to change? It has a negative connotation to begin with. In the words of Peter Senge: ”People don’t resist change. They resist being changed.” People don’t decide to have resistance to change but they end up resisting it if they are treated as pure subjects of change and not as active doers.  

David Rock’s SCARF model provides more insight to the matter. The model defines five social and psychological basic needs people have. If these are not considered, it causes a reaction in a person’s brain that impacts the way we think and behave: fear, resistance, slow learning, stress. The five basic needs are status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, and fairness. 

In change situations, these can refer to: 

  • Status – ”Am I valued and is my contribution valued in the future? Am I needed?” 
  • Certainty – ”Do I know what happens next? Am I capable? Will I learn?” 
  • Autonomy – ”Am I able to influence things that affect me? How?” 
  • Relatedness –”Are we in this together as a team? Is there a risk that I’m left out?” 
  • Fairness – ”Do I perceive the change as fair and justified?” 

If these basic needs are not attended to in change situations, it causes an automatic resistance to change and a fear of the future, resistance towards the new and unknown and difficulty in adapting new things. 

Conversation, listening and participation 

On the other hand, when these basic needs are attended to people are more cooperative, creative, efficient ja adaptive. Attending to these needs in practical terms means conversations, listening and possibilities to participate. Through them people can better understand what the change means for them in practical terms and what’s happening at a given time. They can impact the future in cooperation with others. This creates a feeling of a justified change that they are a part of. 

What if we could forget about the resistance to change and focus on finding opportunities to make a change together? Opportunities to discuss, ask and wonder. Opportunities to plan, define ja participate. It sounds like a lot of work but in the end it’s the fastest and most efficient way to create a change.