Identifying and Overcoming Invisible Resistance to Change


It is easy to think of responses like avoidance, argumentativeness, dismissiveness, defensiveness, defiance, apathy, impulsiveness, and manipulation as resistance to change. However, additional blocking responses are often missed.

A Better Understanding of Resistance to Change

Before we knew more about the way the brain works and why people resist change, we understood that resistance to change comes up as a result of fear of the unknown, loss of control, and other aspects of the change itself that may minimize our autonomy. We understood that changes to aspects like our environment conditions, processes, work structure, or what is expected of us, will likely result in resistance because people don't appreciate having to let go of previous ways of doing things that feel more comfortable and safe. Neuroscience adds a new dimension to our ability to support and overcome resistance to change by identifying two additional causes for resistance to change.

Previously Invisible Causes for Resistance to Change:

It is extremely important to minimize resistance to change that is a result of fear by creating an effective foundation of trust, communication, and transparency. That said, in addition to managing fear, Neuroscience highlights two more previously invisible reasons people resist change, which we also need to identify and support people to overcome:

  1. Resistance associated with the need to unlearn: When adopting new ways of doing things requires letting go of previous patterns or habits, this will require rewiring the brain which is uncomfortable. People experience a variety of resistance responses because their brain is trying to minimize the discomfort. These responses must be identified and people will need to be supported otherwise these responses will block change from being adopted.

  2. Resistance associated with people's response patterns to discomfort: The way people respond to discomfort is deep and is not limited to change. These resistance responses come up when change is uncomfortable, even if there is plenty of effective communication and trust, because they are deep emotional response patterns. Like the other two causes, this type of resistance will block change unless people are provided with the support they need to respond more effectively to discomfort.

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