Making Your Team Work

Practical advice on how you can change your team for the better.

Are You Resisting Change?

Are you using your energy to go backward instead of forward?

Person holding up hands in resistance

It’s not uncommon to find change uncomfortable or anxiety-provoking. The expression that humans are “creatures of habit” is a true representation of how our brains work.  So when we need to do something new (or even harder—to do something old in a new way), it takes conscious effort. That’s not easy.

It’s ok to struggle with change as long as you actively struggle.  That implies that you are working diligently toward making it happen.  If you do nothing, or worse, if you struggle in opposition to the change, you’re weighing everyone else down and getting yourself further and further behind.

Use this simple quiz to reflect on whether your response to change has gone well beyond the natural reaction to learning something new into the destructive zone. (The questions are in order or severity with later questions reflecting more extreme resistance.)

  1. I silently disagree with the proposed change but I don’t voice my concerns
  2. I spend more time thinking about why the change is a bad idea than a good one
  3. I question why the change is necessary, even after the rationale has been explained
  4. I share my concerns and dislike of the change with my peers
  5. I am less productive as I spend time talking about the change
  6. I procrastinate and only comply with the change when someone follows up
  7. I share information to try to discredit the change or the person leading it
  8. I ignore requests to change my behavior and continue on as normal
  9. I use my influence to try to get decisions reversed after they have been made
  10. I encourage others to ignore the change directives

These are only some of the ways that you might be resisting change. Unfortunately, this resistance is bad for your organization and bad for you. Whether it's at work, in a volunteer effort, or in your family, resisting change will only get your branded as someone who slows things down. Try these three tips to get your head in the game.

Consider the possibility: Humans can be very vulnerable to the confirmation bias—we pay more attention to information that confirms what we believe. If you are aware that your mind and even your body are resisting a change, consciously try to take in positive information.  Ask broad questions and force yourself to listen for the benefits in the answers. “What are we hoping to achieve through this?” “What will success look like?” “How we will be better after the change?”

Get ready to succeed: It is natural to resist a change if you think you won’t be able to succeed in the new world. Instead of expending energy fighting it, use your energy on building your skills. Start with a frank conversation with someone you trust. “How will this change affect me, specifically?” “Where will I need to invest in my skills to be ready?” “What do you think will be most difficult for me and how can you help?”

Collect small wins: There is considerable evidence from cognitive psychology that our behavior informs our attitudes (and not just the other way around). Even before you really believe that the change is a good idea, start behaving as if you do. “What’s one thing I could do today in line with the change?” “How would I do this task differently?” “How should I reprioritize my activities based on the change?”

Most people don't expect that change will be easy or instantaneous. You will have a little leeway to get your head around it. But if more than a little time passes and you’re still directing your energy into resistance instead of forward progress, you’re damaging your reputation and letting down people who are counting on you. Be open to the change; invest in your success, and just do it—even if you don’t believe in it yet.  Living the change is the best way to eventually believe in it.

Liane Davey, Ph.D., researches team effectiveness. She is the author of You First: Inspire Your Team to Grow Up, Get Along, and Get Stuff Done.

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