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Why We Resist Change

Submitted by on August 26, 2014 – 1:41 amNo Comment

We Resist ChangeArticle #785

Author: Tim Bryce

“If anything in life is constant, it is change.”

– Bryce’s Law


Like so many of you, I am often mystified as to why there is

so much trouble in the middle East. We could easily blame it on

religious fanaticism, be it Christian, Jewish, or Muslim. Perhaps.

But I tend to believe it can primarily be attributed to change

(or the fear of it). In this part of the world, there is great

suspicion over the cultural differences between religious groups. Each

side fears if they make peace and accept the other parties, it will have

an adverse affect on their culture which is something they simply

will not accept. In their minds, each believes they follow the

“true calling” and will not tolerate any discussion to the

contrary. Frankly, I do not think anyone is trying to change

the moral conviction of the other; nonetheless, the fear remains.

We see similar examples of the fear of change, on a much smaller

scale, in business, the volunteer non-profit organizations we

participate in, and in society in general. Change is a fact of

life. Change happens every day before our eyes in the most

subtle ways. Change is constant. And instead of resisting change,

we should learn to understand it and learn to cope with it. Refusal

to deal with change is simply denying reality. For example, I

see substantial changes in the schools my children attend, not

just the difference between my generation and theirs, but the

changes in their own schools in the short time since they have

been going to school. I have also witnessed substantial changes

in the workplace since I entered it in the 1970’s.

In the systems world, IT departments should readily understand

the nature of change for they typically devote 80% of their work

effort on modifying and improving corporate systems. As an

aside, I find it rather amusing that systems people, who are

supposed to be the merchants of change, are often the most

resistant to it themselves.

It would be nice to believe change always represents progress. Not

necessarily. Change can also be counterproductive if a

new convention is introduced that doesn’t improve the status

quo. This is probably the biggest cause for the fear of change;

that it will not improve our livelihood but, instead, cause a decline

in our way of life.

Change is not a technical problem as much as it is a people

problem. Implementing changes to our mechanical devices is

nothing compared to how the human being must deal with the



There are fundamentally three reasons for change:

  • Political/Government influences – representing new or modified laws,rules and regulations to be implemented either dictated to us orby majority rule. This is closely related to…
  • Cultural influences – society, fashion, religion, customs and language, even the physical environment affects change. For example, the use ofour vernacular or our personal appearance represents subtle changesin attitudes and morality. Mother nature, with its tempest of storms,affects how and where we live. The evolution of technology falls intothis category as well. For example, consider how the PC, cell phones,

    video players, and the Internet have affected our lives over the last

    few years. We now live in a fast-paced world where we expect

    everything on demand.

  • Competitive/Economic Influences – in order to succeed in life, it is necessary to evolve and improve in order to win. Do we really wantto just “Keep up with the Jones'” or do we want to get ahead of them?Economics also influences our way of life and represents oursafety blanket. For example, if we do not feel economically stable,we will alter what we are doing in life to safeguard our family and


As an aside, these three agents of change greatly influence our information

requirements. Those who understand this will adapt accordingly

and be masters of their destiny. Those that do not, will fall behind.

There are three degrees of change:

  • Subtle – representing minor changes occurring daily which we accept (either gladly or grudgingly). Subtle changes can be as insignificantas a change in our speech, form of address, a new hair style, etc.We will either like and embrace such changes or we will simplytolerate them.
  • Moderate – representing significant modifications to the status quo. This includes such things as upgrades to our systems andprocedures, changes to our policies, and material changesaffecting our way of life. Moderate changes are either mandatedor requires some tact or diplomacy to implement.
  • Radical – represents changes upsetting the status quo. This includes complete overhauls of systems, the introductionof totally new ways of conducting business, and such thingsas mergers, diversifications, closings, and divorce.

Understand this, resistance to change grows as we move from

subtle to radical. Subtle changes are those we understand

and readily adapt to, but unending changes turning our world

upside-down will not always be greeted with enthusiasm.

“Living without change would be inconceivable and unbearable.

At the same time few of us would care to go on living in the

midst of ceaseless, chaotic, completely unpredictable change.”

– Hadley Cantril


Let us now consider the fundamental reasons why we resist


  • We are creatures of habit. We long for stability in our lives which represents a comfort zone we want to live in.Any proposed change to this comfort zone is greeted withsuspicion. This is perhaps the biggest reason forresistance to change.
  • Fear of the unknown. Going into a dark room is difficult even for the bravest of souls. As human-beings, we have anatural tendency to want to be in control of our actionsand behavior. As such, the unknown is terrifying and causesus to invent rationales for why we shouldn’t do something;even worse, ignorance leads to fabrications of the truth

    and gossip.

  • Human emotion. Humans are capricious, and tend to do only what pleases them. We may elect to cooperate or stubbornlyresist for no apparent reason. As such, we must recognizeman as a political animal who will only do those thingsthey feel are in their best interest. We do not like ourauthority or territory challenged whereby we might lose

    control. Consequently, we will sabotage any change coming

    our way.

  • Ignorance. We are either unaware a problem exists or that a better solution can be found. Many people are comfortableoperating in a state of ignorance, they do not want to knowabout problems or anything affecting their environment.
  • Combinations of the above.

A person’s age also affects resistance to change. As we get

older we become more set in our ways and less likely to accept

change. In contrast, younger people are much more adaptive to

change. A lot of this has to do with the fertility of the mind. Our

most creative and energetic years are in our youth where we believe

the sky is the limit. This is why the military wants young soldiers

for they believe themselves to be fearless and want to prove themselves

to their superiors and family. In other words, they have not yet

learned they are not indestructible. But after they have been

burned a couple of times, they start to become jaded and start to

challenge the rationale for why they are asked to perform certain

tasks. Further, the military realizes younger minds can be shaped

more readily than older ones.


As we all know, implementing change is not a simple matter. A lot

depends on the perceptions of people. If we believe a change to

be worthwhile, we will readily accept it; if not, we will bitterly

resist it. As humans, we act on our perceptions which is not

necessarily synonymous with reality; it is how we believe something

to be regardless if it is true or not. Hitler and Joseph Goerbels

were acutely aware of this phenomenon and distorted people’s

perceptions in order to bring about sweeping changes in Germany. Both

the press and politicians in general are also astute in this

regard and attempt to influence public perceptions, thereby

bringing about the changes they champion. Advertising agencies

are also aware of this, as should business and non-profit groups

interested in bringing about change.

Before we turn everyone into propaganda ministers though, let us

consider the fundamentals for altering perceptions which is

commonly referred to as the three canons of discourse:

ethos, pathos, and logos, representing emotional appeals at

ethical, emotional, and logical levels. We deliver these

arguments through media appealing to our senses and intellect

and “voila” you have the recipe for manipulating perceptions:

Rhetorical Argument (the message) X Media = Perception

Before we try to sell people on a particular change, we have

to weigh the impact on its effect (subtle, moderate, or radical)

versus the costs and benefits involved. “PRIDE” Special Subjects

Bulletin Number 19 (“The Elements of Cost/Benefit Analysis” – Apr 11, 2005)

includes a description for performing a Cost/Benefit Analysis.

We must recognize from the outset the cost of change is proportional

to resistance to it. The higher the degree of change (“subtle” versus

“radical”), the more costly it will be to implement.

Regardless of the scope or degree of change, in order for it to be

successfully implemented, it must become a natural part of our lives

(our culture). In other words, we have accepted the change and

alter our lives to implement it. If we fail to adapt to it,

the change will not take affect in the manner we had hoped. Let me

give you an example, years ago my wife worked for a large jet

engine manufacturer in the mid-west where she ordered specific

parts for the assembly line. A lot of the ordering was done

manually using index cards and paper forms. The company believed

this to be antiquated and ordered the design of a new Order Processing

System. Millions of dollars were spent on the project for a

new “state of the art” system. As the system neared initial

start-up, the order processing staff was given rather cryptic

training in the use of the system. The system may have been a

good one, but the developers underestimated the human element of

change. So much so, when system start-up came, the order

processing staff simply ignored the new system and continued with

their index cards and manual forms. This was a major setback for

the systems people. What had they done wrong? Three things: first,

they didn’t solicit support for the project from the order processing

staff in the early stages of the project, nor did they have a

representative from the staff participate in the project;

Second, the training of the staff was done badly (cryptic instructions

were given instead of offering education in terms the staff could

understand), and; Third, the systems department failed to provide

adequate technical support during system start-up. Consequently,

the order processing staff ignored the new system, went back to

their old ways of doing things, and sent the systems staff back to

the drawing boards.

Anytime we are interested in introducing any major change, there

are three things we must do:

  1. Solicit support from the people who will be affected by the change thereby getting them “on board.”
  2. Train them effectively (in terms the staff will understand).
  3. Follow-up and support the people until the change becomes a natural part of the culture.

By doing so, we set at ease concerns people have about the merit

of the change. If this is not done, people will either ignore the

change, or even worse, deliberately sabotage it.

Implement as much change as the people affected can assimilate. Too

much change may be too difficult for people to cope with. In

this event, stage your changes over times. Always remember,

“You eat elephants one spoonful at a time.”


The Implementation of change is considered so important by some companies,

they will track the frequency of changes and the degree of severity by

either maintaining logs or plotting time lines (or both).

Such analysis is useful for spotting trends. If there is increased

frequency of change, a manager should be asking questions as to why. Perhaps

there is something fundamentally wrong with the product or

object we are managing.


People will tolerate a certain amount of change, but complete chaos,

where change occurs rapidly and unpredictably, is difficult for anyone

to tolerate. “Controlled” changes, on the other hand, are more palatable

to accept. To do so, we have to itemize and prioritize a backlog of

anticipated changes and implement them under structured conditions as

time and costs permit, thereby adding “rhyme and reason” to changes as

opposed to helter skelter.

Taking control over the implementation of changes (or “Change Control”)

is essential in order to move from a “reactive” management style to

a “pro-active” style. In other words, we take charge of change as opposed

to changes taking charge of us.


Change is a fact of life and as such, we must either learn to

adapt to it or perish. In fact, it is our duty to change, to

aspire, to progress, to seek perfection and evolve. Change is


Change impacts the lives of people and, as such, affects their

emotions and insecurities. To implement change requires an appeal

to the perceptions of people in terms of how it will improve their

livelihood. If the change is misunderstood or if it is perceived

as something having an adverse effect on the status quo, it will

be steadfastly resisted. However, if a change is pitched properly,

not only will people welcome it, they will help implement it for you.

Implementing change means overcoming fear and establishing trust. And

remember, bite off only what your people can chew. Since change

is an evolutionary process, stage your changes over time. As one

part of your overall plan is implemented, phase in the next.

Finally, I will leave you with this quote from Machiavelli’s,

“The Prince” written in 1513:

“It must be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to

plan, more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to manage

than the creation of a new system. For the initiator has the

enmity of all who would profit by the preservation of the old

institution and merely lukewarm defenders in those who

would gain by the new ones.”

I guess some things never change.

Article Source:

About the Author

Tim Bryce is the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA)

of Palm Harbor, Florida and has 30 years of experience in the field.

He is available for training and consulting on an international basis.

He can be contacted at:

Copyright © 2006 MBA. All rights reserved.

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