The Biggest Reason People Resist Change

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

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

If the change has any value at all, someone will not agree—at least initially.

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

And I’ve discovered the absolute most common reason change is resisted. I mean the biggest.

Would that be helpful to know?

I would say it is true the majority of the time when change is resisted.

Understanding this reason can help navigate through change. Ignoring it makes the process of change miserable for everyone.

What’s the most common reason change is resisted?

It’s an emotion they feel. They may not even be able to describe it, but it’s more powerful at the time than the excitement the change may bring.

What’s the emotion? You may think anger, or confusion, or fear. And while those are often true emotions of change, in my observation it isn’t the most common. I recently wrote 7 Emotions of Change, and it isn’t one of them. I was saving the biggie for this post, because all the others are often products of this one.

The most common emotion that causes resistance to change:

A sense of loss.

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?

It’s not a good-feeling emotion.

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

They 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 matter if people know the change is needed. They often feel they may be losing something in the change—and it causes them to resist the change.

And because change is—well—change, their emotions are based on some truth. Things are changing.

I have found, as a leader, that 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.

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

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

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Ron Edmondson
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.