Are they resisting? (2/2)

15 June 2018
author picture Article written by Valérie Spaey

Part 2 - Preventing and Managing Individual Resistances

Resistance arises as a natural and arguably healthy consequence of imbalances provoked by change. It is fair to say that resisting is part of the game. It does become a real issue, though, from the moment the phenomenon solidifies and people stand on their refusal to change.

The first part of this series focused on managing resistances at the collective level as a way of mitigating their effects at the individual level. The following offers tools to diagnose individual resistance patterns and to deal with resistance behaviours in the most effective way. Be warned that the best tricks are also the most counterintuitive!

Four resistance reactions.

“Am I really able to change?”, “Do I want to change?”, “What’s in it for me” … are just a few questions that arise whenever change is under way. The following typology classifies resistances along the two main dimensions that articulate these concerns: ability and willingness [1]. Far from being a monolithic phenomenon, resistance takes on many forms from collective to individual, active to passive, and also along the four reactions highlighted below (Graph: Claude de Scorraille). It is therefore crucial to adjust resistance management plans accordingly.

  • The collaborator asks no questions about the change. He just goes for it. This is the best-case scenario … but also the most unusual one.
  • The opponent refuses point blank to operate the change and/or ignore information sessions. He will probably sit back waiting for the wind to (hopefully) change directions. Unfortunately, this is a very common behaviour.
  • The impaired profile desires the change but feels insecure. Consider the case of new technologies and brand new working routines. Whether real or perceived (and directly derived from personal adverse circumstances or a lack of confidence), this “ability gap” stands in the way of an expeditious transition to the envisioned future state.
  • The rigid profile is under no circumstances willing to question the status quo. He is quick to remind everyone of past failures and the pointlessness of change.


Anticipating resistance is the best way to manage them. Kick-starting the change and hoping for the best is not an option.

Preventing resistances: a 360° assessment.

A proper impact assessment is the very first building block of resistance prevention. Carried out upstream, it helps define change in very concrete and specific terms. Our partner PROSCI charted 10 areas likely to be impacted.  

The higher the intensity and impact of change – best encapsulated by the number of working areas affected by change –, the higher the risk of resistance. It is only logical then that you devote quite some time to “mapping” the change with each and every employee.


Since resistance is a phenomenon significantly related to the individual perception of what is at stake, this sort of helicopter view has to be supplemented by more subjective dimensions. It is important to measure how naturally prone someone is to change (profile) and how many changes are underway at a given time (saturation). Another question to ask yourself as a manager, is whether that person is already saturated by “business as usual” (BAU). Understanding and recognizing personal challenges involved (“What’s in it for me” - WIIFM) is crucial to ensure meaningful and deeper engagement. If change is a process and not event, it is also essential to identify points of friction. The ADKAR method is a powerful framework defining personal milestones to be achieved. Each of the five stages take people one step closer to successful change but you may need to help them remove practical and emotional blocks. The problem can be due to a lack of awareness (A), desire (D) or deficiencies when it comes to implementing or going through the change (Knowledge and Ability). Remember that some people may still revert to their old habits, hence the need to reinforce the change (R).

Managing resistance: listening to understand, not to reply.

There are three golden rules you must adhere to when it comes to managing resistances. Listening is a crucial requirement but it is a minefield in its own right. You must resist the urge to answer and confine yourself to reformulating or confirming what is being said. It all boils down to making sure the person has been heard without judgment, comparison, psychological projection, advice or direct call to action. The second rule that naturally follows is to ask open questions in order to foster understanding. Finally, reach out to the person later on to provide feedback if things are changing for the better!

The aforementioned typology may help fine-tune the process depending on the underlying causes of resistance.

  • When facing opponents, anticipate and acknowledge resistance straight away (ex. “I know you’ll tell me that this change is not a positive development for the company”). Understand that trying to convince them will get you nowhere since their position lacks rational foundation.
  • Impaired profiles may benefit from an in-depth analysis of what can still be reliably expected even in uncertain times so that they can build a solid ground on which to start taking action. Refrain from dishing out solutions, though, as they are still not ready to act on them.
  • “Rigids” should ultimately be presented with the whole “choices-consequences” spectrum and be asked to take a position. In the worst case you will need to make it very clear that they are either “in or out”.
  • Although collaborators certainly seem like your best allies, it is all too easy to ignore offering encouragement and recognition. Beware of frustrated collaborators who can swell the ranks of opponents.

The very first step to tackling resistance is … to take a step back and listen. Do not try to fix things, even if it seems to you that there is an obvious solution. Give yourself time to identify the type of resistance at hand and adjust the strategy. Test drive these methods in the private sphere! It works wonders.

[1] Source: Claude de Scoraille, la résistance au changement [online]


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