Dr. Cathy Chargualaf CSC, DCH, Ph.D. 

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Why Resistance Occurs

Posted on April 11, 2018 at 10:45 AM

Why Resistance Occurs


Resistance to change is normal and expected, but what if we could eliminate at least half of the resistance encountered on a change initiative?

The question is not if we will encounter resistance to change, but rather how we support our employees through the change process and manage resistance to minimize the impact on employees and the organization.


Change creates anxiety and fear. The current state has tremendous holding power, and the uncertainty of success and fear of the unknown can block change and create resistance. These physical and emotional reactions are powerful enough by themselves to create resistance to change. But there is more to resistance than our emotional response. From a change management perspective, we must examine the other drivers that influence an employee’s resistance to change. Other influencers include:

The impact on their work

The trustworthiness of people communicating the change

Personal factors, including finances, age, health, mobility and family status

The change’s alignment with their value system

The organization’s history of handling change


Even when employees can align the change with their self-interest and belief system, the uncertainty of success and fear of the unknown remain significant barriers to change.


What Does Resistance to Change Look Like?


The definition of resistance is “the refusal to accept or comply with something; the attempt to prevent something by action or argument.” Prosci uses the word resistance to describe the physiological and psychological responses to change that manifest in specific behaviors. In a recent webinar on managing resistance, over 350 responses were provided to the question “What does resistance to change look like in your organization?” The responses were analyzed to produce the following categories of resistance:

1.Emotion – fear, loss, sadness, anger, anxiety, frustration, depression, focus on self

2.Disengagement – silence, avoidance, ignoring communications, indifference, apathy, low morale

3.Work impact – reduced productivity/efficiency, non-compliance, absenteeism, mistakes

4.Acting out – conflict, arguments, sabotage; overbearing, aggressive or passive/aggressive behavior

5.Negativity – rumors/gossip, miscommunication, complaining, focus on problems, celebrating failure

6.Avoidance – ignoring the change, reverting to old behaviors, workarounds, abdicating responsibilities

7.Building barriers – excuses, counter-approaches, recruiting dissenters, secrecy, breakdown in trust

8.Controlling – asking lots of questions, influencing outcomes, defending current state, using status


Just as change is individual – person-by-person – so is resistance to change. The root cause for one person’s resistance may not be the same as another person’s, considering factors such as personal history, current events in their life, and other current changes at work.


Categories: Managing Change, Leading Change