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The Number One Reason People Resist Change

The Number One Reason People Resist Change

After years of leading change, I’ve discovered some things about the process. One of those discoveries is change will face resistance. All change.

Surprised by this revelation? Not if you’ve actually ever led change.

If the change has any value someone will not agree—at least initially. It’s almost human nature at work.

There is something in all of us, which initially resists change we didn’t initiate.

And, in addition to this, I’ve discovered the most common reason change is resisted. I mean the biggest, number one reason people rebel against change.

If there were one big reason, would it be helpful to know?

Understanding this can help a leader navigate through change. Ignoring it makes the process of change miserable for everyone—and often keeps the change process from being effective.

What’s the most common reason change is resisted?

It’s an emotion people feel. An emotion.

They may not even be able to describe what they are feeling, but the emotion is more powerful at the time than the excitement the change may bring.

And, it may not even be the emotions we naturally think. We assume anger, confusion or fear. And, while those are often true emotions of change, in my observation those aren’t the most common or at least initial emotions.

There is one that comes first and impacts all the others.

What is the most common emotion that causes resistance to change?

A sense of loss

There you have it—and must understand it. People emotionally feel a sense of loss in the process of change.

Have you ever felt like you were losing or had lost something?

How did you react? Didn’t you try to hold on to whatever you were losing? Did your blood pressure rise a bit? Did you “feel” something?

That’s what people feel in the initial days of change. It’s not usually a good feeling emotion.

And, translate that sense of loss into the organizational context.

Loss of power
Loss of comfort
Loss of control
Loss of information
Loss of familiarity
Loss of tradition
Loss of stability

These aren’t always rational emotions. They are often perceived as bigger than they really are.

But, they are real emotions to the person experiencing the emotion of loss.

It doesn’t even matter if people know the change is needed. Emotions are not dictated by reality. But, because change is change—their emotions are based on some truth. Things are changing.

So, they feel they are losing something in the change and it causes them to resist the change.

I have found, as a leader, if I understand what people are struggling with I’m better prepared to lead them through it. Some people are never going to get on board with the change, but many times people just need someone to at least acknowledge their sense of loss. It doesn’t eliminate the emotion, but genuine empathy allows me to keep leading.

The great news from my pastor/leader friends is you already know how to assist people dealing with a sense of loss.

When a leader discounts or ignores a person’s emotions, the resistance becomes more intense, because the emotions become more intense. This is actually when some of those other emotions—like anger—are often added. The process of change is then stalled and sometimes even derailed.

Leader, are you paying attention to the emotions of change?

This article originally appeared here.

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Ron Edmondson is a pastor and church leader passionate about planting churches, helping established churches thrive, and assisting pastors and those in ministry think through leadership, strategy and life. Ron has over 20 years business experience, mostly as a self-employed business owner, and he's been helping churches grow vocationally for over 10 years.