Change can be uncomfortable: it challenges what we know and forces us to learn new things and adapt. Not all change is bad, but most change is met with significant resistance — which is normal, since it’s our brain’s reaction to the fear of the unknown.
In the modern world and workplace, change is happening more and more frequently, which means that a company’s survival depends on its ability to embrace innovation.
Increased rates of digital adoption, accelerated due to the COVID-19 health crisis, have also continued to push businesses forward. The rise of remote work, AI, the gig economy, inclusion and equality, and more, are all shaping how we live and work. Change is inevitable, so as employees and team leaders, we need to learn how to adapt — or we will fail.
Everyone reacts differently in the face of change, but taking note of your initial resistance and making time to process your thoughts can help you see change from a different perspective. While we are wired to resist change, we can take control of our emotions and move past our initial reactions. Here’s how you can and your employees can overcome your resistance to change:
The 3 Biggest Barriers to Leading Change Effectively
Change is rarely met without some form of resistance. It usually comes in one of three forms:
- Company Leaders: Change starts from the top down. Leaders need to step out of their comfort zone and develop change-ready mindsets and behaviors. If you’re trying to implement change at your organization, you need to address leadership resistance head-on and win the support of your higher-ups. With them on your side and leading by example, you’ll have a much easier time encouraging the rest of the organization to adopt new behaviors.
- People: Change can rarely happen with just one supporter. Adopting change is a team sport, so you must enlist change ambassadors and advocates at every level of the organization to truly make a change stick.
- Processes: Poor planning and decision-making can cause employees to abandon new habits and quickly fall back into old ways. You need to allocate sufficient resources – like time, money, and talent – to execute the change and build lasting adoption.
Reacting to Resistance: The 4F’s
When faced with change, the human brain often sees it as a threat. Afterall, change undermines everything we already know and can cause us to feel out of control.
How does our body react to change? It resists. When our brain perceives a nearby threat to our well-being, it automatically switches to stress response modes.
Neuroscientists have pinpointed the four common ways we react to these scenarios – and they call them the “4Fs.” They are Fight, Flight, Freeze, and Fawn. Here’s what they mean:
- In fight mode, you actively resist change. You might think things like: “I’m afraid it won’t be done right. I just need to push harder and do it my way!”
- In flight mode, you actively avoid change. You might say, “I’m afraid to get into a fight about this I don’t have time to get all worked up about this”
- In freeze mode, you might not take any action at all. You might think things like: “I’m afraid that I don’t have the answer. I don’t know what to do”
- In fawn mode, you just want the person proposing the change to be happy. In this scenario, you might say, “I’m afraid that you won’t like me if we disagree. I need to fix this now!”
You might find that one, or multiple, of these behaviors is how you would react in the face of change. Take a moment to identify which one or ones apply to you.
Taking Charge of How You React to Change in The Workplace
Resistance for the sake of resistance helps no one. If you find yourself resisting change, take a step back and try to get to the root of your feelings. By controlling your emotional response, you can take a more deliberate approach to:
- Tune in to our response. Recognize the discomfort and the feeling of the 4F’s and the temptation to move away from, against or towards a change.
- Breathe. Bring your responsive brain back online. One powerful (and simple) way to do this is a practice called box breathing. Here’s how it works: inhale in for 4 seconds, pause and hold the breath for 4 seconds, and then exhale for 4 seconds. Then, repeat until you’re calm and your head is clear.
- Shift your response. Take notice of the assumptions you are making about the other person or people and actively choose to show up with curiosity. Ask yourself:
- What do I want for myself?
- What do I want for this relationship?
- How would I behave if I really wanted results?
These questions will refocus your mind, and bring you back to what you are hoping to achieve. Where our focus goes, energy flows. Will we let our emotions get the best of us? Or show up with an open mind and a thoughtful response? That’s our choice.
This content is an excerpt of the Hone class, Overcoming Resistance to Change. In each workshop, a world-class subject matter expert guides you through what happens to our brains when we face resistance and share the powerful tools and practices modern leaders need to lead effectively through times of uncertainty and change. Sign up for a free 30-day free trial of Hone and try any of our Leading Change classes and more for yourself.