People Getting In The Way Of Change?

CHANGE MATTERSHow to deal with the most common negative archetypes.

EMPLOYEES CAN BE your biggest champions when it comes to making changes within an organization: They can be cheerleaders, early adopters and insight-providers.

Sometimes, however, people can be the biggest roadblocks when it comes to change. We all have some natural resistance to change, and that’s okay – as humans, we’re wired to strive for homeostasis. But some people seem to be more resistant than others, and they tend to fit into 6 categories.

Here’s how to deal with them:

The Yeller thinks that if they voice their objections with sufficient volume, they’ll eventually get their way – and they often do, because many people find Yellers intimidating. But the best way to deal with Yellers is simply to let them finish their rant, then pause for 10-15 seconds before you respond. Most of the time, the dramatic post-yell silence will give them time to realize they’ve over-reacted, and they’ll calm down. It’s important not to take yellers personally – they’re not yelling at you, they’re Yelling because they’re finding the situation scary or stressful or frustrating. Acknowledging their concerns and helping them find solutions to them, can often turn them into powerful allies.
Sometimes it is a good idea to also talk with the Yeller alone, out of earshot of anyone else. That gives them an opportunity to get to the heart of their concerns (remember they are either scared or stressed or frustrated) and figure out a way to alleviate them.
These are the people who agree to everything in the boardroom, and then somehow never actually do anything they’ve agreed to. It can be hard to spot an Agree-er until you discover that some key task hasn’t been completed, but the fix is relatively easy: Hold them accountable and establish consequences for non-compliance. Ensure you follow up meetings with an email that clearly assigns their tasks, deadlines and a reporting method that makes it difficult for them to make excuses. Let me repeat the most important sentence in this paragraph: HOLD THEM ACCOUNTABLE and establish consequences for non-compliance.
I once worked with an Agree-er on a project who basically derailed the entire (multi-million dollar effort) because he agreed to do things he had no intention of doing. Once he was held accountable the situation improved, but the project team would have done better if they had realized that he was an Agree-er and acted accordingly.
The Critic thinks that the best way to make a ‘contribution’ to the change process is by poking holes in every idea or action item on the agenda. The most effective way to defuse a chronic Critic is to respond to each criticism with a request for a suggestion for a better idea or solution. In a boardroom situation, the second or third time they’re forced to say “I don’t know what the answer is – I’m just saying there’s a problem…” tends to take the wind out of their sails.
The truth is that sometimes the Critics have a point, but they often make them too late in the process. If you know someone is naturally a Critic, involve them early and use them as a sounding board. This helps in two ways – you keep the Critic close and know what his or her criticisms will be; and you can use his or her knowledge and critical thinking skills to make the end product better.
Like the Critic, the Nay-Sayer tends to cast a sense of doom over the change initiative, but in a more general way: “I just don’t see how this is going to be possible in the timeframe we’re talking about…” Some experts say the most effective way to deal with Nay-sayers is to ignore them and hope they’ll get swept up in the tide of enthusiasm. I say the best way is to speak to them privately, let them know how important they are to the initiative, and give them a feeling of ownership. In many cases, it’s just a matter of making Nay-sayers feel more personally engaged.
As with the Critics, they often do have a point. Teasing it out earlier in the process can help you prevent problems later on.
The flip-side to the nay-sayers are the Pollyannas: The hopelessly optimistic types who think everything will ‘somehow’ work out even if they don’t actually identify or address real problems. Dealing with Pollyannas tends to involve clearly articulating ‘what-if’ scenarios (“What will happen if we leave this department as it is, as you suggest, while the other departments change?”) and then guiding them to solutions. It’s helpful to note that Pollyannas may be just as scared of change as Yellers – they’re just dealing with it differently.
Often Pollyannas have a line in the project that says ‘And then a miracle occurs, and then it works.’ Would that it was so. Help them be more realistic while still utilizing their enthusiasm to move the project forward.
These are the people with self-professed ‘high standards’ who don’t want to make a move until every T is crossed and every I is dotted – and who can always find a T or an I which hasn’t been sufficiently dealt with. Perfectionists tend to say that they’re worried about the organization’s ‘reputation’, but in fact are generally worried that they’ll be blamed if a detail is missed and something goes wrong. Demonstrating that you have a strong contingency plan, and that the ‘worst-case’ scenario won’t actually bring disaster, can reduce their fears and encourage them to take action.

When you’re dealing with ‘people roadblocks’ to change, the most important thing to remember is that almost all of them are just expressions of the natural fear and anxiety that the prospect of change elicits from all of us. Utilize these individuals to help make your project stronger and more successful Finding a way to calm those fears and address the anxiety can turn even the most difficult roadblock into an enthusiastic team player. And working with them instead of trying to silence them or get them ‘off your back’ will ultimately benefit everyone involved.


Beth Banks Cohn
Beth Banks Cohn
BETH is dedicated to helping individuals and companies implement business changes that actually work. Beth believes in the ripple effect – that change handled well benefits everyone in an organization, over and over again. As a recognized expert in change as well as corporate culture, Beth consults domestically and internationally with a wide range of disciplines and businesses. Beth is the author of two books: ChangeSmart™: Implementing Change Without Lowering your Bottom Line and Taking the Leap: Managing Your Career in Turbulent Times…and Beyond (with Roz Usheroff).

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  1. What is it, “players got to play, haters gotta hate”? It’s way too easy to adopt the behaviors of those we are constantly with. Almost at the point you can’t tell each other apart. Remember when you were kids and saw those two friends that were inseparable? What about now with those two business executives?

    To help yourself change, hang around with people that resemble who you want to change into to. Spend more time with them, less with those other peeps.

    • Thanks Chris, I agree that we often adopt the attitudes and behaviors of those we are constantly with. Sometimes that works out and sometimes it doesn’t. I think the key is when you said ‘to help yourself change’. Not everyone wants that or pursues it, or even thinks it is necessary. My article talks about getting to that point where people want to change – what happens afterwards is exactly what you say – it is helpful to hang around with different people with different attitudes and approaches.

    • I agree Larry that actively engaging people is the key. Thanks for weighing in on this important topic. I agree with you, however, we need to know HOW to actively engage them. There is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to that. I don’t disagree that listening to individuals and encouraging them to take a leadership role can be quite fruitful, however I wonder what you mean by ‘leadership role’. Not everyone wants or is capable of taking a ‘leadership role’ during a change. Some people will use all their energy just figuring out how to ‘be’ in this new world. I agree that during a change we need leadership at every level, but we still have to take into account that our employees might be spending all their energy on getting through the day because they have a sick spouse, or child or parent, or money troubles, or name the distraction. We need to treat people as they need to be treated, most especially in times of change.