Reframing Resistance to Change

we can't change people to our view if we don't understand theirs

No standard behavior change, no innovation. It’s that simple. True Innovation results in a step-change where we can’t imagine going back to the old way, but the road to that outcome is full of rejection. It’s hard to overstate how important this is: if you’re not getting rejected you’re going the wrong way.

In a rational world, innovation would be easy. But it’s not. The reason is humans are messy and emotional, great sources of resistance to anything new. All of us innovators are at peace with rejection because we understand humans are messy. We amass stories of rejection like they’re badges of honor, encounter resistors even in places we believe we wouldn’t; resistance to change is fact of life.

Still, we make mistakes in trying to make change. One is playing an Us vs. Them game, which frames resistors as enemies. The goal is to run right through them, but in doing so we lose the ability to influence them. Of course, we must not lose context; we can’t please everyone.

Logic is the enemy of change

The most common mistake we make is try to get people to rationalize why something should be changed, this results in a quick rejection. Why? Because change is about feelings.

Getting people to care is the first step, because they won’t care if they don’t feel understood. We must remember two things about change: people love change if they’ll be better off, and people don’t resist change, they resist trying to be changed.

Reframe Us vs. Them

So, how do we stop ourselves from trying to change others? There are many strategies for overcoming resistance to change, here’s another one from Strategy+ Business:

The solution is to reframe how we think about resistance. Rather than assuming critical thinkers are resistors, we would do better to treat them as guardians. Guardians see what needs to be protected, and the trust that can be destroyed by a broken promise or a shortcut. Who else will ask the hard questions? Guardians keep us honest in the face of self-delusion or blind spots.

When you approach guardians as responsible, thinking adults (with imperfect information and biases, just like you), you demonstrate genuine respect. You gather input, not as a way to get them to buy in to the change, but because they have important information you may be missing.

I like this idea. The biggest motivator for not changing is fear of loss, and resistors protect something they’re afraid of losing. If they don’t feel understood they won’t embrace change.

To close the gap, we have to take the time to empathize, put ourselves in others shoes and consider their worries.

Bottom line: You have to change a behavior if you want to change the result. But we can’t change people to our view if we don’t understand theirs. It’s a mistake we all make.