The Path of Least Resistance

Contrary to popular belief, most people don’t resist change. We make changes every day . . . trying a new product . . . learning a new skill . . . eating healthier. What people resist is having change imposed on them. Change as an internally-driven choice, no problem. Change as an externally enforced expectation . . . ah, that is where the resistance lies. So how do you as a leader, who will have to make decisions that impact people’s lives, minimize the resistance you encounter when making a change? Here are three steps to consider:

Start where they are, not where you are.

When you implement a change as a leader, in most cases you have been thinking about it for some time. You have had a chance to consider options, run out scenarios, and address potential barriers. By the time you make the decision, you are well down the road from where you started, and from where your people may be when you announce the change. Too often, we expect people to immediately understand and embrace our actions, rather than taking the time to walk them through how you came to the decision. Take the time. 

Accept that See-Feel-Act is a stronger motivator than Think-Analyze-Act.

Bombarding resistant people with more and more facts, rather than addressing the underlying and often emotional source of their resistance, is likely to result in them digging their heels in even further. The sense that you don’t hear or understand their hesitation, and are instead using facts that are less important to them to reinforce your position, only widens the gap. How do you narrow that gap? A sincere “Help me understand . . .” is a good place to start. And it just might result in an even better path forward.

Recognize that resistance often comes from a source of pride.

When you implement a change, people may interpret it to mean you think the previous approach was wrong, or at least not as good as the proposed new direction. Especially if they were rewarded for or took great pride in how things were done in the past, there is a natural resistance to doing things differently. Honoring what was done previously can help build good will for the new approach. “Because of your efforts in the past, we are in a position to take this exciting next step . . .” or perhaps “a strength of our organization has always been our ability to innovate and change.” However you do it, honoring previous efforts can pave the way for a smoother transition to the future.

Change is hard. The three steps above may not make the process painless, but they could very well help you find the path of least resistance. 

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