Because I’m in the change business I am frequently telling people that change is really easy if you know how to do it. Almost without exception, however, their response is: “What do you mean change is easy? Everyone knows that people resist change!”
Don’t you think that people resist change? Don’t you notice that your friends, family and co-workers frequently know what to do and just don’t do it. Of course people resist change. It’s obviously human nature.
Despite the conventional wisdom, people don’t resist change. People do resist something, but it’s not change. Let’s take a look and see what it is.
Let me describe two situations where people usually don’t change when they’ve been told why it is necessary and see if you can figure out what they really are resisting.
Resistance in Business
A common business situation involves workers who are seemingly resisting change. Many companies employ people called service technicians. These people see their job as installing, fixing, and maintaining whatever product their company sells.
In recent years management has tried very hard to get these people to provide a higher level of customer service. They are sent to workshops where they are told the importance of taking better care of customers: how customers will buy elsewhere unless they get a high level of service, how their jobs will be threatened if customers stop doing business with their company due to poor service, etc.
But in case after case the level of customer service doesn’t improve much. According to management, many of the service technicians are “resistant” to change.
Well, if I’m right and they aren’t resistant to change, what are they resistant to? … Here’s a clue: These employees believe they are technicians, whose job it is to install, fix, and maintain the company’s products. Now they are being told to take more time talking to customers, telling customers what they are doing and why, answering all the questions customers might have, etc.
Given their belief about their job, they think that what they are being asked to do will make it more difficult to do what they think their job is. They are thinking: How in hell will I ever get my job done if I have to spend all my time talking to customers?
Well, if someone is telling you to do something that will make it difficult for you to do what you think is right, what does their request sound like to you? … Like they’re telling you to do what you think is wrong.
In other words, the technicians are not resisting change (doing something different), they are resisting doing what they think is wrong given their existing beliefs.
What appears to be widespread resistance to change is nothing more than people acting consistently with their beliefs.
When I realized this many years ago (when I was a management consultant), I created workshops that would change workers’ beliefs about their jobs. The new job belief led to the desired behavior. After eliminating the old belief and creating the new one, the workers naturally and effortlessly changed their behavior.
In the case of service technicians, we had them create a new job belief—I am a customer satisfier—in which taking better care of customers became possible. The shift in belief allowed employees to see taking care of customers as an integral part of their job, instead of getting in the way of their job. (This new belief led to the level of customer satisfaction going from the mid 70s to the mid 90s, with 100 being the highest.)
Resistance in Relationships
Now let’s look at a situation that comes up frequently in relationships. Imagine that you have a relationship with someone who yells at people whenever they don’t do what she thinks they ought to be doing. Perhaps you have told this person that you don’t like her yelling at you and you think it is inappropriate for her to yell at others. The response might be, “Yeah, I guess you’re right.” But her behavior continues despite this admission.
What if she had the belief: Yelling is the only way to get people to listen and do what I want? If she had this belief, if she wanted to get someone to do something and they weren’t doing it, she would be predisposed to yell to get results.
So if yelling is the right thing to do to achieve her goal, then not yelling is the wrong thing to do. The “yeller” doesn’t resist change; she resists doing what, for her, is wrong. Change the belief and the behavior will change naturally and effortlessly.
The logic of your argument for change is useless if you are trying to get people to do something inconsistent with their beliefs. They will continue to resist doing something they think is wrong. The next time you think someone is resisting change, ask yourself: What must they believe that has them think their current behavior is right and what you are suggesting is wrong?
Fundamental change IS possible
If people were generally resistant to change, then there would be little if anything we could do about it. But if people don’t change because they believe what they are doing is right and what you (or others) want is wrong, then we are now in a position to produce change in individuals and in the world by helping people realize that their beliefs are not “the truth.” (Can you see that all political arguments are nothing more than conflicting beliefs? Consider: Global warming. How to deal with the economy. The failure of our educational system. Health care.)
How do you know someone’s belief isn’t “the truth”? Because all beliefs are only “a truths,” the meaning we give to meaningless events.
What appears to be widespread resistance to change is nothing more than people acting consistently with their beliefs. When people change their beliefs, change occurs naturally and effortless
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Use this information to improve your life
Think about something you have been trying unsuccessfully to change in your life … something that seems impervious to change. Then see if you can identify the beliefs that have you acting the way you are currently acting and that are inimical to the new behavior.
Once you identify these beliefs, can you see how they are keeping the current behavior in place and making it difficult to exhibit the new, desired behavior?
After you’ve done this exercise a few times it will become clear to you that change is not inherently difficult; the difficulty is in acting inconsistently with your beliefs.