Why Do People Get in the Way of Change? And What Can I Do About It?

CHANGE MATTERS[su_dropcap style=”flat”]E[/su_dropcap]MPLOYEES 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.

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Archetype 1: Yellers
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. [The sad truth is that most Yellers have good points, but they are often lost in the decibels of their delivery.] 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 yelling may not work this time. 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. Sometimes they aren’t feeling heard at all and they think raising their voice will solve that problem. Acknowledging their concerns, and answering them, can often turn them into powerful allies.
Archetype 2: Agree-ers
These are the people who agree to everything in the room, and then somehow never actually do anything they’ve agreed to. Nor do they feel it necessary to support you outside of the meeting room the way they supported inside of it. It can be hard to spot an Agree-er until you discover that some key task hasn’t been completed, or that they’ve been disagreeing with the agreed upon direction behind your back, but the fix is relatively easy: Make them accountable and establish consequences for non-compliance. Spell out what “agreement” looks like and hold them accountable. 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.
Archetype 3: Critics:
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 “thank you for bringing that up.” Then if you’ve had the same concern share what has been done to alleviate it. If it is something you and your team hadn’t thought of encourage them to give some suggestions on how to best deal with that potential problem. Try to remain open, as difficult as it may be. The more open you are to hearing what the critic has to say, the more they will pick and choose what they criticize. One last thing: Don’t ever wish your critic would just “shut up” and get back to work. They often can save you from problems down the road. You just have to be open to hearing what they have to say.
Archetype 4: Nay-Sayers
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.
Archetype 5: Pollyannas
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.
Archetype 6: Perfectionists
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 genuinely and personally uncomfortable with anything that isn’t perfect. This isn’t the first time this Perfectionist has used his or her ‘high standards’. 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.[/message][su_spacer]

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. Each one of these roadblocks can be turned into precious building blocks as you move through an important change initiative. Finding a way to calm their fears and address the anxiety can turn even the most negative archetype into an enthusiastic change supporter.

Beth Banks Cohn
Beth Banks Cohnhttp://www.adrachangearchitects.com
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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