Ten Good Reasons to Resist Change

Source unknown; adapted and introduced by Jaco B. ten Hove, co-minister
September 24, 2000--Paint Branch UU Church, Adelphi, MD

"Stuck in transition between situations, relationships, and identities that are themselves in transition, many Americans are caught in a semi-permanent condition of transitionality."

óWilliam Bridges, Transitions: Making Sense of Life's Changes

We are being asked to change at every turn, it seems. Change, which is a very much a natural condition of life, has become a stress-producer largely because of its rapid rate and our attitudes about it. It is no wonder we resist at times. Some resistance is natural, too: as a reasonable reaction to imbalanced change, or unhealthy speeding into transitions that we would be wise to question under certain conditions.

And so I offer you a list of "Ten Good Reasons To Resist Change." It's just a general list, applicable to general situations, not meant to be inclusive of all possibilities. Some items relate better to personal situations, and some to cultural or institutional settings. Taken as a helpful portrayal of human dynamics, these reasons could also inspire an awareness that might improve the odds for desired, benign change to be accomplished peacefully.

1. There is resistance to change when the purpose of the change is not made clear. Mystery and ambiguity often cause anxiety. The fear of change can be as disrupting as change itself, because it produces similar worries and unrest.

2. There is resistance to change when persons affected by the change are not involved in the planning. It's human nature to support what we create. But when we are "told" something, we will often resent the pressure, the authority. When we have a "say" in the process, or can feel represented in decisions, our acceptance and assistance is much more likely.

3. There is resistance to change when an appeal is based on personal reasons. The change agent who says to you, "Won't you do this for your friend?" can be met with suspicion. Loyalty is a desirable trait, but few people will change solely because of it. We will only respond meaningfully to a personal plea if, at the same time, we see that it solves a problem or gets something done or reaches a goal.

4. There is resistance to change when habit patterns are ignored. Anyone trying to plan and initiate change will find it helpful to be knowledgeable and insightful about the norms and standards of those who will be affected.

5. There is resistance to change when there is poor communication about the change. Clumsy process and mixed messages that confuse people will likely alienate potential supporters.

6. There is resistance to change when there is fear of failure, fear that change will bring out or illuminate personal inadequacies. Many of us are concerned with whether we have the ability to master change, and who can blame us for this? It is challenging. Fear of failure is especially strong when we are threatened with "punishment" such as demotion, loss of status, lower pay, or the displeasure of authority figures. We are more likely to successfully accommodate change if we are given sufficient time and training to adjust to new procedures or assignments so that we can be positive participants in the change.

7. There is resistance to change when excessive pressure is involved. Often such pressure results when we don't plan changes far enough in advance, or are uneasy about these changes ourselves. When people are busy, under stress, and feeling pressured, the advocated change may well be the straw that breaks the camel's back. Better to prepare folks by imagining a well-built runway toward the take-off of new ideas or procedures.

8. There is resistance to change when the "cost" is too high, or the reward inadequate. We may determine that a suggested change will not bring us any benefits, such as higher status or pay, better living or working conditions, etc. This can certainly be a valid reason for resisting change, but we might benefit from a deeper awareness of all the positive possibilities, especially if they only affect us indirectly. For example, people without young children may be reluctant to vote for a school bond issue because it will raise their taxes, even though they do approve of better schools. In general, we are more likely to make adjustments when the rewards for change exceed the pain of change, but sometimes those rewards are not always obvious.

9. There is resistance to change when anxiety about personal security is not relieved. Sometimes we will approach a change situation feeling like itís a threat to our past performance or to our ego. To the extent that a change effort takes into account such personal security issues, it is more likely to be accepted. Understanding that "stability" includes being able to live with ambiguity and flexibility is especially helpful.

10. There is resistance to change when there is lack of respect for or trust in the initiator. When we dislike or mistrust whoever is leading an attempted change, our lack of enthusiasm will quickly become evident. In fact, we tend to change more readily if we are able to influence reciprocally the person or persons attempting to influence us. In other words, relationships matter.

In case these arenít enough reasons, hereís one more, for EXTRA CREDIT:

There is resistance to change when there is satisfaction with the status quo. When we ó as individuals or in a group ó are satisfied with the present state of affairs, we are more likely to resist change. It's realistic to expect the attitude, "Don't stick your neck out," "We never had it so good," or "Why upset the apple cart?" Individuals and organizations that are satisfied with their present situation are the least likely to initiate or endorse new steps. Also, people tend to respond well to change when there is some public demonstration of commitment to it, especially when the change direction is visibly supported by valued others.

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