The Myth of Resistance To Change


There is no such thing as resistance to change. There is only resistance to loss. Understanding this difference can save you huge amounts of angst, trauma and suffering. The failure to realize exactly what’s happening, when change begins to occur, freezes people in place, and plunges them into a prolonged state of denial. Everyone but them, can see what’s happening, and more importantly, what’s going to happen. People and organizations, develop an emotional blindness, similar to Freud’s concept of “hysterical paralysis.”

A misunderstood emotional state causes individuals and businesses to literally not see what’s right in front of them. It’s like watching, in complete dismay, as someone marries a total nutcase, who they believe will honor, respect and love them forever.

It was clear as a bell to everyone except the leaders of Kodak, Bethlehem Steel, World Com (and innumerable other failed companies) that things were happening that posed a significant threat to their very viability. In the public sector, politicians and lobbyists, keep resuscitating Amtrak and the Post Office, in the face of irrefutable data that neither one, as currently structured, is going to survive.

Why then, do we keep doing this? We get stuck in denial because we don’t want to see what we’re losing, and no one is helping us deal with our feelings of loss. All change is loss. Let me repeat that – All Change Is Loss. If you understand this concept, and learn how to operationalize it, you will have the ultimate market differentiator and competitive advantage. You will adapt to change quickly, while others go around and around in self-destructive circles, trying to figure out why their changes are so difficult to deal with.

The unconscious does not discriminate between positive and negative change. All it recognizes is the difference between the familiar and the unfamiliar. As a consequence, once a change becomes apparent, our unconscious immediately begins to identify losses.

On a conscious level, we experience a puzzling sense of discomfort, sadness and a sense that things are not right. And without the knowledge that we have just begun to experience a myriad of losses, we are left with a strange sense of something just being “off.”

Successful people experience tons more loss than unsuccessful people. When one succeeds (especially quickly and largely) every relationship is impacted; including one’s relationship with oneself.
Nothing remains the same. And that threat causes us to hang-on, for dear life, to what used to be, and to how we have historically defined ourselves.

This is why leadership succession, promotions, market shifts, and other disruptions are so destabilizing and confounding. We forget that human beings are creatures of predictability, and even when that very predictability proves damaging and destructive, we will create rationales to justify the unjustifiable. I’ve seen this again and again, with entrepreneurs who hold on, with ferocity, to control their businesses (and drive the best and brightest away), when it’s clearly time for them to move on. I’ve also seen it in very bright and talented women who slow down or even sabotage their professional growth, so as not to put their most important relationships at risk. This phenomenon is why individuals and businesses are most at risk of imploding and failing, when they have achieved a most sought after success.

So, what can we do to intervene in this process? The most important thing to do, when change begins to take place, is to identify all the people who will be impacted by the change, and what specific losses they will experience. The biggest and most damaging thing that businesses do, when they have an identifiable success, is to cheerlead the change, and ignore the losses.

What they should do, is the exact opposite. The losses that employees will experience, may seem inconsequential to leadership, but a lack of recognition of them, inevitably results in low morale, passive-aggressive behavior and impaired productivity. Feelings will have their expression: Either directly and helpfully; or indirectly and destructively. It’s important to remember that people can deal with good news or bad news; but not no news.

What we have our clients do, when a significant change is about to occur, is to organize groups of employees (most often by job roles) and have them literally write out everything they will loss, no matter how seemingly trivial the loss may seem to be. We then facilitate an open discussion of how they feel about their losses. That’s it!

Addicted problem solvers freak out at this, and try to “fix” all the articulated problems. We do our best to prevent this. “Fixing” is simply a veiled attempt to shut down people’s feelings. As my wife taught me, many years ago; people don’t need to always have their way – they do need to have their say.

Morrie Shechtman

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