Not All Change Resistance Is Equal

We are all familiar with the change resistance. Change resistance is a natural reaction we have in our personal and work lives when we are faced with things that are not immediately nice and require adjustment. For business purposes it is necessary to know the level of change resistance throughout the company, so that they know how to react correctly and support people during the change.

 Change resistance is a normal reaction, but its level can vary greatly

Change can be slightly uncomfortable or even completely against one’s values and experiences 

People are always making a personal choice, when they decide to support the change and take part in it actively. Likewise, opposing change is a personal choice that is based on the employees’ own experiences and thoughts on the subject. It’s always good to remember this, when you are looking for reasons why the change is slowing down or completely failing in the organization.

Change resistance can come from multiple of reasons. HBR’s article from few years back pointed out ten very common reasons: the person feels like he/she is losing control, the change has many uncertainties, the idea or decision was too much of a surprise, the change is disturbing the daily rhythm and makes everything feel different, there is an opportunity to lose face, the person worries over his/her own competence, the change means added workload, the change has much deeper impact than they first thought of, the employee has a history that makes him/her oppose the change, or the change represents a personal threat for the employee.[1] 

All of these reasons are valid, but not equal in their strenght. The reasons that are on the first level are much easier to combat than the ones that are more deeply rooted:

  1. First level: The idea or change itself feels bad, because people don’t like it, they don’t understand it, the timing is bad, some other option sounds more lucrative or the people cannot don’t feel that it is important to them.
  2. Second level: Problems are deeper and they are much harder to verbalise. The problems here are often rooted to trust, earlier experiences and anxiety. The change can be a personal threat to the employee and he/she will be afraid how it will influence his/her job.
  3. Third level: The opposition in this level comes from very deep down and the change is totally against the person’s values and experiences or it feels like an impossibility. [2]

What managers can do to lessen change resistance?

For companies it is important to know, what level of resistance they have against the changes they are implementing. This helps them to know to react. If the resistance is only at the first level, it is usually enough to inform and engage the people more. At the second level, people need to be activated more and company needs to make sure that their concerns are acknowledged, answered and respected enough.  At the deepest level company should do all the above, but also seek for other options and try to find a common ground. It requires a lot of will and persistence from the leader to get results in this case.

Communication and leadership needs are also greatly affected by how far the change has progressed as we have written in our blogs “Engaging Leadership Can Help with Change” and “Effective Communication Is at the Heart of Successful Change Management“. As the change progresses, the leader’s role changes from being the forerunner and initiator to a more guiding and collaborative position. This is because the employees start participating and taking more responsibility, which means they need to be supported in a different way. From the leader recognizing these different phases of change requires certain susceptibility and ability to listen, as well as a capability to adapt the leadership style.

When it comes to change resistance, communication is more general in the beginning and it seeks to create pull effect and excitement among the employees. The manager should seek to create a safe environment to those who have doubts. He/she should also let them know why the change is necessary and why the specific choices were made. This should lessen the resistance at least in the lower level. Since the resistance at the second level requires more personal connection, the manager should tackle the issues more specifically as the change progresses. Moreover, he/she should try to involve the opposition at least to some parts of the change.

It is also important to choose who is communicating. When you are trying to create excitement and tackle the easiest levels of change resistance, it is usually enough to have a CEO or change sponsor who does the talking. This is because the uncertainty and questions are usually quite similar among employees.  Instead the deeper issues are more personal and the closest supervisor is a better choice for the conversation.

TripleWin has developed a change management platform NOOA, which takes into consideration how natural change resistance is. NOOA makes it easy for manager to see the change resistance in the way employees are regarding the change and how actively they are participating in it. The support can be given in multiple of ways. Read more about NOOA at and book a meeting if you are looking for tools to lead the change.


[1] Moss Kanter, R. (2012) Ten Reasons People Resist Change.

[2] TripleWin (2012) TripleWin PDF Toolkit, 7th edition.


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