Stress Management When Faced with Resistance to Change

Change is inevitable both personally and in the workplace and is often stressful. To be effective in managing change in the workplace, upper management and leaders need to be aware of and be sensitive to the resistance to change. They also need to be strong in stress management that requires flexibility.

What are the underlying issues that make change such a challenge?

  • Change is tiring.
  • Change requires individuals to move from cognitive ease to cognitive strain.
  • Change presents something new and different and most people have a fear of the new and the unknown.
  • Individuals do not like leaving their comfort zone
  • There is an ignorance of the advantages of the change.

Most of these are inter-related and can be addressed when understanding cognitive ease and cognitive strain. What are cognitive ease and cognitive strain?

Cognitive ease is when we have learned something and repeated the process enough that the task no longer requires effort. For example, when we learned to tie our shoes, we had to concentrate on each step in order to successfully tie our shoes, i.e., our thinking was slowed down. This is cognitive strain. After repeating this task often enough, we went from having to focus on each step of being able to tie our shoes without having to think about it. After enough repetition, we could tie our shoes while having a conversation with someone. We went from cognitive strain to cognitive ease, fast thinking.

Cognitive strain is tiring and basically, we are lazy by nature. In the workplace, the focus is on getting the job done and if a new system is implemented, we have to slow down, concentrate and the perceived threat is we will not get our job done in the amount of time that we became accustomed to accomplishing it. The advantages of the change need to be communicated to break down the resistance to change.

Another issue to contemplate is that we have become a culture that reinforces cognitive ease. If we want to look up a definition of a word, for example, we turn to our computers, type in the word and even if we are unsure of the correct spelling, the computer can fill in the blanks for us. Before this advanced technology, we had to get up, find the dictionary, look up the word, sometimes having to break the word down into syllables in order to spell it correctly to find it in the hundreds of words and pages that comprised this great book. At one time, we were conditioned to press on in a task that required slow thinking. Something to consider, is part of the resistance to change a product of our enhanced technology?  In my example, we can now look up a word and its definition in less than a minute. Technology has replaced cognitive strain and given us solutions at lightening speed.

Resistance to change is not a negative stance. In order for the change to be embraced and have a smooth transition, the resistance needs to be addressed.

What are the tools an organization can adopt for change management?

  1. Address the resistance and reflect back the concerns and fears around the proposed change.
  2. Try to understand the resistance. Ask staff about their resistance and how it will impact their work.
  3. Build buy-in through rapport, asking for input and participation, and engagement.
  4. Allow room for different alternatives as a new perspective could improve upon the proposed change.
  5. Ensure comfort for their success with the change by having an effective implementation plan and sufficient training.
  6. Be sensitive to how change can create more stress.

Many organizations do not have a succinct implementation plan for the proposed change. When this is lacking, the change will not be successful and everyone will return back to his or her old way of doing his or her work. An implementation plan is the final step to ensure a successful change. Another step for a successful change is to monitor the implementation plan. Monitoring the plan can often reveal areas that need improvement or modification.

When all these steps are taken, there will be:

  1. Less resistance
  2. Less frustration
  3. Stress levels will be lower
  4. A greater understanding of the need for the change
  5. A more successful outcome

How many organizations have imposed a change and it did not succeed and/or went poorly? Seasoned employees often show resistance because the company did not follow up with a good implementation plan and training. An implementation plan broken down into phases can create more buy-in and the proposed change becomes more manageable and less overwhelming.

As an organization:

  • Do you have an effective approach to managing change in your culture?
  • Do you break down the change into phases that match up with an implementation plan?
  • Do you seek out ideas from staff as to understand their perspective of what needs to change?
  • Are there checks and balances during the implementation to ensure that the changes are being adopted?
  • Do you manage stress well?

When upper management comes up with a good to great idea of how to improve operations, the details outlined above often become omitted in the excitement resulting in insensitivity to the amount of stress that can ensue. An executive coach can be the ballast during the excitement of a new idea during the execution of the change. Managing change is key to a successful outcome. Managing change can be stressful. Are you strong in managing stress in yourself and others? With change is stress. Stress management is a component of emotional intelligence. To be an exemplary leader, development in this area will improve the outcome for proposed changes. For a complimentary EQi – 2.0 assessment, please feel free to contact me. And remember, Success Starts With You.