Change resistance and response


In my previous post, issues encountered by various of my non-profit clients were identified as catalysts for application of an empathy mapping response, in order to gain greater insight into the underlying causes of resistance to change initiatives.

The issues and circumstances were summarised as follows:

– a CEO dealing with resistance to cultural changes required in the organisation
– a manager dealing with a director seemingly undermining her work
– a team leader meeting reluctance by some team members to help share the load of carrying out new procedures necessitated by COVID-19
– a recently appointed manager charged with implementing a substantial ‘improvement’ program facing resistance by a long-serving team member (with connections on the governing board) to changing ‘the way we do things around here’

As mentioned in that article, gaining empathy by itself is not sufficient, and implementing a course of action based on insights from the empathy mapping exercises is a necessary next step. So too is an understanding of the organisational context (strategic and operational), and the likelihood that there will be a mix of legitimate and problematic views informing the particular instance of resistance.  Almost invariably, the resisting party will hold a firm belief in the ‘rightness’ of their position.

Change types

A comprehensive typology of change is a far bigger subject than an article such as this can do justice to, however a partial survey of the types of change which could be involved may be helpful to readers contemplating development of relevant responses.

The ‘change selector’ header image offers a sample (arguably over-simplified) of the types of change you could be faced with, including the possibility that the change initiative you have in mind qualifies for more than one of the categories illustrated.

This selection of change types is a subset of the categories discussed on the Management Study Guide website, and does not claim to be complete.

Forms of resistance

The-SLII-ModelAlso illustrated in the header image is a selection of response or resistance types, and these too could be seen in combination in some circumstances. Situational leadership considers a range of factors before determining the most suitable response and appropriate next steps.

Image source:

Response approaches

Numerous models have been formulated by experts in various fields following reflection on the nature of change processes and the perspectives that may inform selection of the most appropriate approach. The sample of 9 models in the infographic below illustrates just some of these perspectives, including those of:
– corporate strategists
– policy, advocacy, or campaign personnel
– project managers
– boards of directors
– professional development planners and trainers
– line managers
– behavioural psychologists
– counselors, mentors, coaches

9 Change ModelsThe quote from George Box (“All models are wrong, but some are quite useful”) is offered to remind us all that human beings rarely engage with change in a simple, linear, step-wise manner. The image below of the stages of grief model compared with ‘my experience’ is funny – mainly because it’s true (in my own experience).


A similar ‘messiness’ is likely to apply to human experience of each of the other models illustrated; indeed, with any change model you look to apply.

Seeing the different emphases and purposes of these models highlights the importance of taking into account the mindset and ‘filters’ (especially cognitive biases) employed by the protagonists in the change scenario.

Resistance to a strategic change which arises from concerns about collateral damage to stakeholders would obviously require an entirely different response than resistance to a procedural change necessitated by public safety concerns (such as have been triggered by COVID-19).

Outcome focus

Regardless of the type of change involved, the form of resistance, the context in which the resistance is manifested, and your insights from use of empathy, your selection of a suitable response to change resistance will benefit from focusing on best outcomes, and wherever possible seeking a win:win result.

2 thoughts on “Change resistance and response

  1. Never let real-world feedback loops interfere with fanciful little linear models. Build a bridge by such models and people will die. Not a single one of these engages early in defining how to measure effects. Just like government programs that produce a lot of activity at great cost with scat attention to when the activity is done.

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