Resisting change

Several things happened this week that tested my own resistance to change. I've often said that people are happy enough to change as long as they have had a part in the decisions and it is somewhat within their control. Often they are not party to the decision and neither is it within their control. As happened to me.

I talk of change in four categories (not ideal but serves to illustrate):

  • Continuous not very planned incremental change e.g. Organizational members leaving and joining an organization as part of normal staff turnover
  • Intermittent but planned incremental change e.g. Hand written letters, typed letters, email, social media
  • Continuous not very planned radical change e.g. Stream of policy changes, leadership changes, restructurings, acquisitions, etc.
  • Intermittent planned radical change e.g. Whole office move to new building

During the past week I've experienced all four types and for all my knowledge of 'change management' I find that this has not been a comfortable experience. Indeed, I observe myself resisting the changes in all sorts of not very helpful ways.

When I'm teaching people to work in situations where they feel resistance from others – individually and collectively I advise the following:

1. Accept that this is a period of emotional turmoil and that people may experience feelings of anger, hurt, disappointment, depression, betrayal and loss.
2. Suggest people seek emotional support from trusted friends, family peers and managers.
3. Allow people time to internalize and reflect on how they feel about the change.
4. Challenge them to avoid self-defeating behavior.
5. Stop them staying stuck in this stage

Now, feeling my resistance to my circumstances it's a good moment to see if I take my advice.

In previous times like this I've headed for songs, words and poems that acknowledge disappointment, frustration, anger, etc. and offer alternative ways of thinking about it. Chet Baker singing Look for the Silver Lining is one I listen to and also for an instant pick-up Chin Up is a lovely singalong from Charlotte's Web. In other dark times I've found Theodore Roethke's poem that begins 'In a dark time, the eye begins to see'… Acknowledgement and acceptance do help. See zen habits on frustration, or some of Rebecca Solnit's work.

Talking over the situations has been helpful and led to several new avenues for exploration. One person suggested rather than aim for 'resilience' with the aim of 'bouncing back' instead take the situation presented as an 'offer' and in the moment, improvise around it. This has taken me into a whistle stop tour of improv. I looked at Keith Johnstone's work, listened to his TED talk and then Steve Chapman's work.

Someone else led me towards the Alternatives to Violence Project which works to develop attitudes and skills for handling conflict and violence well. (Note: I am not feeling violent but the techniques of interaction and communication in conflict work well in change resistance).

Allowing myself and colleagues time to internalize and reflect on how we feel about the changes relates to sense-making – a concept I came across years ago in Karl Weick's book 'Sensemaking in Organisations'. I've just come across a recent (2014) excellent Academy of Management paper on the topic.

It opens saying 'Sensemaking is the process through which people work to understand issues or events that are novel, ambiguous, confusing, or in some other way violate expectations. When it works sensemaking 'enables the accomplishment of other key organizational processes, such as organizational change, learning, and creativity and innovation'.

Taking (or giving) the reflective time is often organizationally counter-cultural. But I'm having a go at making time to consciously sensemake in order to ward off self-defeating behaviour and knee jerk reactions. As sense-making reveals ways forward then I can take action.

Getting stuck in a stage of resistance is not my typical stance and trying some new (to me) approaches for letting go will be energizing and interesting.

How do you in your organization design/development role manage your own resistance to change? Let me know.