Stress Management When Faced With Resistance To Change

Change is inevitable both personally and in the workplace and is often stressful. To be effective in managing change in the workplace, upper management and leaders need to be aware of and be sensitive to the resistance to change. They also need to be strong in stress management that requires flexibility.

What are the underlying issues that make change such a challenge?

  • Change is tiring.
  • Change requires individuals to move from cognitive ease to cognitive strain.
  • Change presents something new and different and most people have a fear of the new and the unknown.
  • Individuals do not like leaving their comfort zone
  • There is an ignorance of the advantages of the change.

Most of these are inter-related and can be addressed when understanding cognitive ease and cognitive strain. What are cognitive ease and cognitive strain?

Cognitive ease is when we have learned something and repeated the process enough that the task no longer requires effort. For example, when we learned to tie our shoes, we had to concentrate on each step in order to successfully tie our shoes, i.e., our thinking was slowed down. This is cognitive strain. After repeating this task often enough, we went from having to focus on each step of being able to tie our shoes without having to think about it. After enough repetition, we could tie our shoes while having a conversation with someone. We went from cognitive strain to cognitive ease, fast thinking.

Cognitive strain is tiring and basically, we are lazy by nature. In the workplace, the focus is on getting the job done and if a new system is implemented, we have to slow down, concentrate and the perceived threat is we will not get our job done in the amount of time that we became accustomed to accomplishing it. The advantages of the change need to be communicated to break down the resistance to change.

Another issue to contemplate is that we have become a culture that reinforces cognitive ease. If we want to look up a definition of a word, for example, we turn to our computers, type in the word and even if we are unsure of the correct spelling, the computer can fill in the blanks for us. Before this advanced technology, we had to get up, find the dictionary, look up the word, sometimes having to break the word down into syllables in order to spell it correctly to find it in the hundreds of words and pages that comprised this great book. At one time, we were conditioned to press on in a task that required slow thinking. Something to consider, is part of the resistance to change a product of our enhanced technology?   In my example, we can now look up a word and its definition in less than a minute. Technology has replaced cognitive strain and given us solutions at lightening speed.

Resistance to change is not a negative stance. In order for the change to be embraced and have a smooth transition, the resistance needs to be addressed.

What are the tools an organization can adopt for change management?

  • Address the resistance and reflect back the concerns and fears around the proposed change.
  • Try to understand the resistance. Ask staff about their resistance and how it will impact their work.
  • Build buy-in through rapport, asking for input and participation, and engagement.
  • Allow room for different alternatives as a new perspective could improve upon the proposed change.
  • Ensure comfort for their success with the change by having an effective implementation plan and sufficient training.
  • Be sensitive to how change can create more stress.

Many organizations do not have a succinct implementation plan for the proposed change. When this is lacking, the change will not be successful and everyone will return back to his or her old way of doing his or her work. An implementation plan is the final step to ensure a successful change. Another step for a successful change is to monitor the implementation plan. Monitoring the plan can often reveal areas that need improvement or modification.

When all these steps are taken, there will be:

  1. Less resistance
  2. Less frustration
  3. Stress levels will be lower
  4. A greater understanding of the need for the change
  5. A more successful outcome

How many organizations have imposed a change and it did not succeed and/or went poorly? Seasoned employees often show resistance because the company did not follow up with a good implementation plan and training. An implementation plan broken down into phases can create more buy-in and the proposed change becomes more manageable and less overwhelming.

As an organization:

  • Do you have an effective approach to managing change in your culture?
  • Do you break down the change into phases that match up with an implementation plan?
  • Do you seek out ideas from staff as to understand their perspective of what needs to change?
  • Are there checks and balances during the implementation to ensure that the changes are being adopted?
  • Do you manage stress well?

When upper management comes up with a good to great idea of how to improve operations, the details outlined above often become omitted in the excitement resulting in insensitivity to the amount of stress that can ensue. An executive coach can be the ballast during the excitement of a new idea during the execution of the change. Managing change is key to a successful outcome. Managing change can be stressful. Are you strong in managing stress in yourself and others? With change is stress. Stress management is a component of emotional intelligence. Remember that if you are suffering from stress and feel you are not coping, you should always reach out for help. You’re never alone and there are plenty of different people out there who can support you. Whether that’s your doctor (who can recommend therapy, prescription medication and alternative treatments highlighted in studies at Remedy Review), friends and family, a helpline, support groups or anything else. To be an exemplary leader, development in this area will improve the outcome for proposed changes. For a complimentary EQi – 2.0 assessment, please feel free to contact me. And remember, Success Starts With You.


Melinda Fouts, Ph.D.
Melinda Fouts, Ph.D.
Melinda Fouts, Ph. D., International Executive Coach, Psychotherapist is a select Columnist & Featured Contributor for BIZCATALYST 360° and a Member of the Forbes Coaches Council (comprised of Top coaches offering insights on leadership development & careers), and founder of Success Starts with You. She was recently chosen to receive the Empowered Woman of the Year Award for 2021 given by the International Association of Top Professionals (IAOTP). She also received the honor as the top international coach of the year in 2020 by the IAOTP. She provides visionary leadership in her field and her many credentials prove she has the ability to empower women worldwide. Her exemplary role as a female professional in a male-dominated industry displays her influence, capability, and proficiency. Inclusion with the International Association of Top Professionals (IAOTP) is an honor in itself, only a few women are chosen for this distinction based on their years of experience, professional accomplishments, academic achievements, leadership abilities, and contributions to their communities. With innovation and compassion, these women empower others to reach their goals, while creating change for future generations. With over 2 decades of professional experience as a business coach and psychotherapist, Dr. Fouts has proven herself as an accomplished professional and expert in the field. As a dynamic, results-driven leader, Dr. Fouts has demonstrated success not only as an Executive Business Coach, but in every role she has held. Prior to executive coaching and leadership development, Melinda has been in private practice as a psychotherapist for over 20 years. She leverages her strengths and insights from her psychology background to help leaders and managers in transition through increased self-awareness. Owner and founder of Success Starts with You, is based upon the premise that you are already successful. Increasing self-awareness to increase emotional intelligence and unlocking blind spots are paramount to continued success. Dr. Fouts leverages her strengths and insights from her psychology background to help leaders and managers in transition through increased self-awareness and discovering their blind spots. It can be lonely at the top and as a thought partner, she makes sure you are not alone. Dr. Fouts’ unique approach from other business coaches is that she helps get rid of thinking and behavioral patterns that tend to keep executives stuck. Her key areas of expertise include but are not limited to: small business consulting, enhancing emotional intelligence, self-awareness, unlocking fullest potential, brainstorming, identifying limitations, challenges, obstacles and optimizing performance. In addition, her successful career as a Psychotherapist and International Executive Business Coach, Dr. Fouts is a sought-after speaker whose key-note address to Women’s Leadership Conferences is Channeling Feminine Power in the Face of Adversity. Her newly released book, Cognitive Enlightenment, was to be presented at the London Book Fair, March 2020, the NY Book Fair, May 2020, and the Frankfurt Book Fair in October 2020 until COVID hit. Melinda received her Ph.D. in Jungian Psychology from Saybrook University and her Masters in Psychology from Pacifica University. Melinda has worked as a consultant with executives and businesses for over 20 years. As a result of her experience and studies, she has developed a unique craft to fine-tune leadership development for peak performance. She lives in Colorado with her big, beautiful dog, Stryder. For more information on Dr. Fouts please visit:

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  1. I see such a resistance to change when the change is 100% new. If the change is a ratio of 70% traditional to 30% new, those the most skeptical to the change will accept it with some craftily positioned discussions.

    When we have to articulate out 100% change to someone that is like tearing apart their world view, and that is a direct challenge to their identity. We’re reinventing people and that can be a key driver to creating stress. I think this is why I advocate Birkman so strongly because of how they see things. (

    I also found that structuring an environment a certain way can multiply how people feel within a company. I can give you examples where environments alone made people happy, sickly, or nervous just from the use of colors, lights, and when meetings were scheduled.

    Change is hard because there are so many facets to implementing successful change.

  2. Certainly the vast majority of people resist change, and feel stress when confronted with it. Then there is the 1% (+/-) that thrives on change and the stress that comes with change. I am one of the 1%. Hotel owners hired me specifically to institute change in their hotel (s) and to improve the profitability. Personal and professional life without change/stress is boring.

    Many articles and books have been written about managing the stress that inevitably comes with change. Most miss the mark in my opinion. Managing change and the resulting stress is a matter of managing people. Show them how the change will impact them in a positive way and the stress goes away. I talk in my book about identifying employee “hot buttons”. The thing or things that motivates each person. Linking change to those hot buttons smooths the turmoil and creates buy-in. It should be noted though that the hot buttons are seldom about money.

    • Great insights, Ken. One area I teach is to help individuals discover their triggers, as you refer to as “Hot buttons.” Having this self-awareness can assist in self-mangament and self-control especially during change. The emotional intelligence assessment facilitates this self-awareness.