Why people resist change

Everyone has their own definition of leadership and their own view of what a leader should do.  However, it seems unlikely to me that any leader can last very long before they find themselves leading change.  At that point the theory that they have known becomes reality: people do not like change.  Of course, this is an over simplification; there are some people who like change.  However, they are few and far between!

The temptation when we come up against negativity towards change is to fall in one of two directions.  The first is to simply dismiss negativity and push on.  The second is to give in to the calls to abandon the change and do nothing.  Neither are helpful, assuming that the change we are envisioning really is the right course of action.  A better approach is to seek to understand the reasons why the change is being resisted.

In a chapter in the book, Leaders on Leadership, Elmer Towns gives some possibilities of why people resist change:

  • Misunderstanding
  • Lack of ownership
  • Habit patterns
  • Perceived price is not worth it
  • Loss of something valuable
  • Satisfaction with status quo
  • Negative attitude towards all change
  • Lack of respect for the leader
  • Favouring tradition

In each case our response should be different.  For example, continually clarifying what the change entails is only helpful if the problem is misunderstanding.  If the issue is a lack of ownership then not only will such a course of action be pointless, but it may even make things worse.

This list is not just helpful to us when considering resistance in the midst of change.  It can also help in two other ways.  First, it can reveal to us some things we need to sort before embarking on a change programme.  For example, we need to earn respect before we begin leading change.  Second, it can also help us consider how we might communicate change, for example by paying attention to the reasons why the status quo is no longer helpful.

If you want to read the chapter in full, here is a link to the book:


Are there other reasons people resist change?  Share your thoughts in the comments below.

You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Leave a Reply

Powered by WordPress