Change Can Be Hard to Sell

Some people seem to be wired to like variety, novelty, change from routine. Others seem to prefer the status quo, the predictable, the familiar. To some extent, this is genetic, but it is also influenced by the multitude of experiences we have been subjected to in our lives. Embracing change requires the ability to break comfortable habits, overcome the need for security, risk what we have, defy inertia and laziness, and master our fear of the unknown. Also, change can be exciting when it is done by us, but it can be threatening when done to us.

There are psychological attributes that don't change throughout life like baseline anxiety and eagerness for novel experiences. People with higher levels of one or the other of these traits will respond in opposite ways to the same situations. For instance, the introduction of new technology can elicit responses ranging from feeling it will be a fun learning opportunity to a blow to self-esteem: "I will never be able to do that!" Some, like chameleons, have a variety of responses available to them. Others will respond in only one, customary way.

Change usually includes both opportunity and loss. Within organizations where many people will be impacted, there must be a reason for making changes--something is not working or an improvement is necessary to remain competitive. Even so, some people will see it as necessary; others will not.

Resistance to change can be motivated by cynicism or mistrust. Cynicism refers to the anticipation of failure or of too little improvement to justify the effort: "It won't produce favorable results. Things are good enough as they are. Leave well enough alone." Mistrust is about believing that the organization is dishonest in its motives: "They say one thing, but do another."

According to "Cynical About Change?", Tomas G. Thundiyil and others, the Journal of Applied Behavioral Science (December 2015), certain employees tend to be more cynical and apprehensive--preferring the status quo. Cynicism can manifest itself actively--like sabotaging the effort--or in more passive-aggressive forms--like bad mouthing the change effort. Those who mistrust the people in charge may be vocal about their suspicions and may even impact the willingness of others to embrace the change.

When a change is proposed by an organization, typical reactions include
• It costs too much
• It is too radical a change
• We don't have the time, personnel, and/or equipment
• It was tried before (or it has never been done before)
• Let's research the market first
• Let's form a committee (to evaluate the pros and cons before making any rash or hasty decisions)
• "If it ain't broke, don't fix it"

The people who will not be present to witness the improvements may be the most stridently against the change. Those people approaching retirement may lose their office space or have to bear the disruption of construction but will not be around to gain any benefits. Older residents in retirement communities may feel the same way and are also more prone to resist change and may have difficulty learning new routines or dealing with changes in their environment. "Will I see the completion of the project in my lifetime?" is a frequent complaint. In the last decades of one's life, comfort takes precedence over innovation even if it promises improvement. It is very difficult for individuals to give up amenities or resources for the benefit of people they will never know.

On the other hand, it is not only older people who resist change, any individual who will experience some personal discomfort for the benefit of the organization or for some future generation may balk at giving up the status quo. In order to support the change, they need to have their complaints acknowledged and their suggestions taken seriously. Emphasizing the needs of the organization and posterity over individual hardship may get those people on board. Here are some suggestions to help overcome reluctance:
• Be clear and explicit about motives and intended outcomes
• Promote open discussion of concerns
• Involve those impacted as much as possible
• Provide training if new skills are needed
• Be aware of possible unintended consequences, especially those which will negatively impact some individuals
• Deal compassionately if dislocation or change of identity is involved

Special attention must be paid to people who suffer from mental issues such as depression or anxiety or who suffer from physical disabilities. For these individuals, change may be more traumatic.

In the end, some people will evade all efforts to get them to accept the necessity for change and will therefore be unreachable by any means. But, in our rapidly evolving world, change is the one constant we can rely on.