How to Reduce Resistance to Change

By Heather Campbell

“But it’s not the same as the old place, is it? There just isn’t the same atmosphere.”

An engineering company that I know had just moved to impressive new offices, far more spacious and stylish than the old ones.

But people were complaining constantly and the employee who made the comment above certainly wasn’t alone.

This was frustrating for the Head of HR and other senior leaders, who had put loads of energy into the big move. Despite everyone’s best efforts, it just seemed impossible to get it right.

The move itself had gone smoothly and everything was up-and-running with minimal disruption to business.

So, how come people still weren’t happy?

How many HR Directors reading this email have sat, head in hand, and asked themselves this very same question? I’ve certainly been there.

At that stage in my career, I found that William Bridges’ 1991 book, Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change, gave me invaluable insight. Bridges’ distinction between ‘change’ and ‘transition’ was a light-bulb moment for me. Change is the logical move from Situation A to Situation B.

But transition is the psychological exercise, as people process the change, internalising the new situation. In other words, it’s the emotions brought about when people come to terms with something ending, as well as progressing to the new beginning. These can be very strong feelings, and may include fear, denial, anger, disorientation, frustration and a sense of loss.

In the case of this office move, there was a strong sense of bereavement about leaving the ‘old place’ and saying goodbye to the familiar old ways of working that had developed there. So while the new building might have represented a bright new beginning to the Executive team, it felt like the end of an era to many employees.

But even that wasn’t the real problem here.

In my conversations with people impacted by the change, the thing that was really getting in the way was that they weren’t allowed to talk about their sadness at leaving the old office. It wasn’t that they were actually banned from doing so; it was just that, if they brought up the subject, their managers quickly shut them down and started talking about all the positives.

This was no good. As Bridges points out, change involves loss as well as gain, and we need to talk about both if we are to help people transition from one situation to another. But, like so many others, these managers felt that bringing a ‘positive spin’ was fundamental to good leadership during this change.

And on top of that, the leaders were sad too — but they felt it was wrong to show this to others.

Expressing negative emotions — or allowing others to do so openly — just wasn’t acceptable. And, they didn’t really feel comfortable talking about the negative stuff, or listening to others talk about it, anyway.

As HR professionals, this is something that we need to address if we want to help people move through change as quickly and painlessly as possible. Our role is to help leaders build the self-awareness, the skills and the confidence to let people talk about the negative side of change as well getting them to look at the shiny new future.

Only then will they be true change leaders. And that’s where CommsMasters’ expertise in helping leaders talk about the tough stuff can help.

  • If your organisation has a big change to communicate, one that is likely to bring about negative emotions as well as positive ones…
  • If you’re feeling pressure from your CEO, who doesn’t understand why people haven’t come to terms with your big change quite yet…
  • If you know you have a big change in the works, and want to help your leaders communicate really effectively…

…then drop me an email and let’s talk. We’ll develop your leaders so that they can help people process change and move forward with positivity and energy — and I’d be delighted to tell you more about how we do it.

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