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Reframing Resistance in Change Management: Working Effectively with Roadblocks


Anna-Ruth Beckmam / Gracie Meisel / Joy Langley

Date Published

Aug 25, 2022
6 minute read
Leaders Resistant to Change

Resistance gets a bad reputation, but it is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, resistance is a normal part of change. Resistance can serve as an invitation to better understand yourself, your team, your culture, and your organization.

To better work with resistance (rather than against it), we must understand what is driving it. It may require tough conversations; however, the effort pays off in the end. This discovery process often leads to a more thorough understanding of your organization’s current environment or culture and ultimately better solutions for employees.


Resistance in Organizations

Making changes within organizations can lead to both technical and social culture impacts that contribute to resilience. From a technical perspective: there may be significant learning curves in learning a new digital transformation or process, systems that don’t meet user needs, and/or contractual or resource constraints.

From a social, individual lens, a change may require:

  • Moving away from people you trust and interacting with a new set of humans
  • Shifting formal power and status within the organization
  • Building new skill sets out of your comfort zone
  • Changing roles and responsibilities (that ideally align with individual strengths and interests)
  • Increasing personal resilience in a frequently changing, complex, fast-paced environment
  • Evaluating if your values fit with an organization
  • Holding the mental space to consider possibilities outside of direct problems

For example, imagine an engineer who has successfully designed widget after groundbreaking widget. Their success has elevated them from the shop floor to a management position. Now, the company is going through a reorganization and our engineer is resistant. By digging deeper, we discover it’s not the reorg they’re opposed to; it’s that they’ll be expected to manage a larger team of people in the new structure, which is outside their comfort zone. By identifying the reason for resistance, our engineer can be set up with the right leadership training program to sharpen their people management skills and become more comfortable with the idea of a larger-scale people management change.

So, how do you know you may be encountering resistance? Resistance can show up in different ways and are all valid and normal. For example:

  • Saying it (i.e., “I don’t agree with this change.”)
  • Inaction or lack of engagement (missing meetings, not responding to emails, etc.)
  • Frustration
  • Actions contradictory to the intended change

Regardless of why and how the resistance shows up, taking a people-first approach to change-management planning will allow you to chart the most effective route forward. Engaging with individuals and teams early and often while undergoing change is critical to ensure the planned change incorporates their needs and insights. Also, it’s critical to provide as much clarity as possible. (Even when you don’t have all the answers, sharing the process to get to the answer is helpful!) Understanding the reasons for resistance and staying open to adapting the change management strategy to account for them increases the odds of successful implementation.


Quick Hits: Six Tactics for Managing Resistance

While every situation is different; here are six steps to keep in mind if your organization runs into resistance to change.

  1. Start With Yourself: Explore your own relationship to this change. Why does it matter to you, the team, the organization, your industry, the world? What is the impact on you? What resistance might you face with it? How are you addressing that impact?
  2. Name It: Acknowledge that you might be facing resistance either internally or within your team.
  3. Stay Curious – Check Your Assumptions: Share what you’re observing with others, with a spirit of curiosity, try to better understand and validate (or change) your assumptions about what’s occurring for others.
  4. Dig Deeper: Use the Five Whys to peel back the layers until you figure out exactly what is holding that person back.
  5. Map It Out: Consider building out a chart to address all the forces supporting the change and all the forces against the change. Check out Kurt Lewin’s Force Field Analysis. When reviewing the forces against change, map out the concerns on one side and how you will mitigate them on the other. It may be that this leads to an even better solution.
  6. Communicate What Is At Stake: One of the reasons individuals may be resistant is that they aren’t resonating with the mission or the outcome of the change. What you might think is motivating or empowering might not be to them. Now that you understand where the resistance is coming from, you can align the change to what is important to others.  Then, communicate that.

If your organization is facing any of these issues or you have other leadership questions, we’d love to chat. Reach out to us, Anna-Ruth, Gracie, and Joy, anytime at,, or