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How to Overcome Resistance to Change

Excuses ooze out our pores. Even typing this article, several have already planted themselves firmly in my can’t-finish zone: coffee needs to be drunk and sports news needs to be checked.

Being a leader means not only blasting through our own reticence to change, but also undermining the excuses of others. And they’ll have plenty of them. Just suggest something God-sized and wait for the challenges to roll in.

By change, however, I don’t necessarily mean paradigm shifts or seismic cataclysms, though those work, too. Change can be as simple as moving from a state of non-existence to out-of-the-head being—such as decorating the stage or putting together a study booklet on your “No Fat on This Temple” series. Scale doesn’t seem to matter because excuses are size agnostic.

Both church name changes and switching bathroom soaps can face an eerily similar uphill battle over the status quo. And that’s mainly because of excuses. One reason for making a change usually slams into twenty oblique reasons the change can’t happen. Some of those reasons make sense, but some are simply ways to sidestep the cost or effort involved.

For those types of excuses, you can undercut them before they pile up.

1. Care about it.

A lack of passion gives off an odor—a subtle one that excusers can smell. Unless you’ve sold yourself on the idea, you’ll rarely package it effectively for others. If you don’t have time to lay out the vision and a real desire to see the change happen, keep it to yourself. Presenting something new requires energy—and probably hand gestures to add emphasis (can’t hurt). You’ll need the momentum that passion affords.

2. Swap seats.

Once you’ve revved yourself up, flip the table around. Think carefully through the types of questions you’ll receive. If someone on your team or board always asks about costs, know the general numbers. Providing quick, reasoned answers to objections or concerns makes your vision that much more possible. Of course, you may need some help on this, which leads us to…

3. Look for a doppelganger.

Sure, you’re creative, but you’re not one-of-a-kind creative. Someone else has probably already done something similar to what you’d like to see happen. Get on the phone or shoot out the e-mail and find out who’s done it and what they faced. Your context is unique, but getting answers from a veteran gives you confidence that this really will work and makes you look researched. At least, that’s the goal.

4. Pick off a few.

If you go into a meeting with the entire team and lay out a sudden change, you might as well wear a helmet because you’ll slam into a wall. Talk individually with a few key leaders about the issue well before the meeting. Sell them on the why so that they’ll back you up when the time comes to tell everyone. Bonus points if you can make them want to champion the idea themselves. Regardless, you don’t want it to be you against the room.

5. Pull the rug out.

When (not if) the excuses hit, be prepared to blunt them. If you know technology will be a concern, have someone ready who can either show your team how to make the idea happen or who can do it for you. If it’s money, find cheaper alternatives or people willing to volunteer time or resources.

6. Listen—for real.

Even though you go into a meeting armed and dangerous, resist the urge to triumphantly squelch the excuses you’ve already considered. Listen carefully first and then parry—thoughtfully. Even if you have a good answer, people steel up when the words traveling from their mouths bounce off your head.

7. Be willing to time travel.

Sometimes, you’ll realize the timing’s off. Even though you’ve prayed and prepared for every conceivable argument, other peoples’ minds aren’t necessarily swayed by your ability to lay out the vision. And if you plow through that type of environment, you’ll likely lose buy-in. Before the idea fizzles, punt, regroup, meet individually with those who have questions, and try again later.

What tips do you have for facing resistance to needed change?