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Dealing with resistance in your project

Elissa Farrow
July 27, 2015

I am often asked by leaders, and other change consultants, about strategies for dealing with resistance on a project or in an organisation. We know that people often become resistant when they become threatened in some way, physically, psychologically, socially, behaviourally, ethically. So the tactic to manage the resistance will vary per person, per group and per organisation.

Resistance often comes from beliefs people have, which are based on their previous experience of change. If you had a bad experience previously, you may expect that bad experience to occur again unless you are given evidence to suggest why this time it is different.

Here is a practical list of strategies that have worked for me at different times and with different people. The list items below are in no particular order, but I have seen them all work in different situations:

  • Bring people together
  • Give them an opportunity to be involved
  • Give them the ‘why’ behind the decision
  • Give them the ‘what’s in it for me’ (WIIFM)
  • Hear them out
  • Understand where they may be coming from
  • Phase the change if you can
  • Support leaders to see early warning signs and support
  • Allow them to grieve
  • Use change champions and super users
  • Test things out
  • Give them free access to professional (psychological) support
  • Acknowledge that feeling uncomfortable in change is normal
  • Be a role model what you would like to see from them
  • Make sure the right person is giving the key messages
  • Repeat the benefits behind the change regularly
  • Send messages through different channels
  • Stop access to the old ways

Your role as a change specialist needs to determine which tactic suits the person, the team, the context, the organisational culture and ultimately what you are trying to achieve. The greater understanding you have for the reality for people, and the leadership appetite for harder or softer strategies will impact on your decision.

Having a resistance management plan is a key change management tool and one that is established up front. It should cover: identifying who might be resistant, with regard to what, and what to do if that resistance starts to emerge.

Change will always bring resistance; we are often wired with various patterns and beliefs that make change difficult. But the good news is with the right techniques and processes at the right time, people can change and move through resistance into a brighter new future.

Elissa Farrow
Elissa is a founder and lead consultant for About Your Transition and has extensive experience in strategic organisational adaptation design, facilitation and delivery. Elissa has supported organisations to define positive futures and then successfully transform to bring lasting benefits. She has proven adaptative capacity and can successfully transfer her skills to different contexts. In 2018, Elissa commenced her doctoral studies through the University of the Sunshine Coast. Her published research is exploring organisational adaptation to the evolving field of artificial intelligence using qualitative and participatory research methodologies. Elissa is an experienced board director and considered a thought leader in her field having won a number of national and local awards for contributing to Women in Project Management and for Change Management Research.
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