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How to cope with die-hard resistors

How to cope with die-hard resistors

When we illustrated some of the common archetypes for change, I said the most difficult is the die-hard: the person unwilling to change no matter what.

Die-hards entrench their resistance to change. They challenge a change manager at every turn. They are stubborn.

This is what you can expect from die-hard resistors. You might not know why, but they are not interested in the change you are advancing.

This is what you can expect from die-hard resistors. You might not know why, but they are not interested in the change you are advancing.

So, we thought they merit their own article.

You can't necessarily change a die-hard. But you can change the way you approach them to get a better outcome for your project.

In this article, we’ll learn a few tactics to get the best outcome from the not-best situation of dealing with people who are insistent on not changing.

Don't waste resources

This first suggestion might not help you with the die-hard. It will help you minimize the damage they do to the overall project:  Don’t invest good money after bad.

If someone will not change, don't pour so much effort on them that the people who might change don’t get needed attention.

You could spend a lot of time for very little reward trying to lift the level of support from die-hards. There is usually a better use for those resources, so be judicious.

You could spend a lot of time for very little reward trying to lift the level of support from die-hards. There is usually a better use for those resources, so be judicious.

Recognize a lost cause when it comes and triage your change management plan. If enough people within the organization embrace the change, the holdouts won't matter very much.

If the majority of the organization adopts, the worst-case scenario is that they become the outlier and simply move on to something that is a better fit for their sensibilities.

Here’s how to ensure you don’t waste resources on die-hard resistors:

  • Assess the risk they pose: What is their position? Who do they influence? Is their participation necessary for the project to be successful?
  • Measure carefully your investment in changing them alone: Do you know the opportunity cost from working with them? Are you facing diminishing returns?
  • Evaluate each investment in die-hards against other opportunities: What other initiatives or interventions were you considering? Is the tradeoff worth it?

Flip the script

You don't have to convince the die-hard to change. You could change the question. By changing the focus, you might give your resistor a way to save face by substituting something more appealing to them.

Stories can look very different if you change the way you look at them. Find a new narrative for the work, and it might be more palatable for your resistors.

Stories can look very different if you change the way you look at them. Find a new narrative for the work, and it might be more palatable for your resistors.

Saving face is important. These people have a great deal of pride (usually it is well earned.)

You don't want to force them into making a change from a perspective that devalues their contributions.

By reworking the dynamics of the change you offer them an opportunity to save face and still resist the first question --but ultimately end up at the same place. If you do it right, you can make them the winner while still getting your change adopted.

Here are some ways you can flip the script:

  • Zoom in on a solution from the change: Redirect from the overarching change to one element in their specific task that will change. Try to address a need, and frame the entire project (as far as the resistor is concerned) as a means to address that one specific need.
  • Let them drive: Ask them what idea they might implement for a specific function. Where possible, give them the ability to design it. Make sure they feel ownership. Have them sell it to others.
  • Change the messaging or the author and include the die-hard from the beginning: This is like giving the project a fresh start, but without wasting effort. Let them contribute to new messaging with a leader that looks like a new face (but doesn’t have to be) for example, you might use their department lead in new communications, and have them incorporate the die-hard and their changes to department-specific messaging.

Find a better leverage point

Resistance is often situational. As the brothers Heath say in the Switch: How to Change When Change is Hard: “What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem.”

If your die-hard resistor has completely shut down to the change, they may not share with you the necessary information to identify what can help them embrace the change.

Little changes make big differencves. Find the leverage point and things will move more smoothly.

Little changes make big differencves. Find the leverage point and things will move more smoothly.

Developing rapport and engaging emotionally could give you the empathy you need to understand where they're coming from. If you understand them better as people, you are better positioned to find a solution that will work.

This is time-consuming and you can’t do it with a large population of die-hards. You'll have to focus on the ones you think you can help and the ones that will have the most influence on others. But your goal is to have civil conversations where come to understand what they're thinking and feeling.

That understanding is integral to solving problems, earning goodwill, and building trust. With all that connection, hopefully adoption follows.

To find the leverage point, you must:

  • Find the source of their resistance
  • Have them explain it
  • Delve deep and see if there is another angle
  • Find complementary values that are critical to them
  • Shape the change in those values and away from the source of their resistance

All of this is easier said then done, but the only way to accomplish it is through careful questioning. Consider something like a root cause approach to asking the questions, as the right answer is usually four or five questions deep.

Work on other influencers

It might be unpleasant to accept, but sometimes people just don't like us.

When a die-hard doesn’t like you because of your role in a change they reject, you probably can’t muster the personal influence necessary to change opinions about that change.

Other influencers can help you understand the reason for resistance. They also may provide a different message or perspective that will be better received than what you can offer.

Other influencers can help you understand the reason for resistance. They also may provide a different message or perspective that will be better received than what you can offer.

In these situations, you may need to rely on the skills of others who have influence on the resistor. Those people might move the resistor towards adoption through their own relationship and their support of your program.

If nothing else, they can serve as a conduit for understanding the concerns of the die-hard and doing the slow work of addressing them.

Be creative

Attempting multiple small interventions may give you a long-shot win.

Small interventions invest a little effort or time so that you're not wasting large investments on committed resistors.

Each attempt is a low-probability effort, but those low-probabilities sometimes succeed. This is a way for you to continue to try without losing too much precious time or too many resources.

Coupling those small interventions with some of the things that you are already doing as part of your plan might have the add-on effect that makes something shake loss in the mind of your resistors.

Try something unconventional

You never know what's going to be the one thing that changes an entire dynamic. But changing the dynamic should be your goal.

If someone is stubbornly resisting the change and nothing you can do will move them the entire context needs to move around them for something to happen.

Nothing you do can offer a guaranteed path to success when dealing with a die-hard resistor.

But using these strategies gives you a chance.

Position those tactics within the scope of what you are already doing, listen carefully, adjust and be ready to cut your loses so you don’t lose sight of the bigger change picture.

How to overcome complacency in successful organizations

How to overcome complacency in successful organizations

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