What do the why of the change and resistance have to do with each other?

Managing and guiding change has become an important aspect for every manager. From team lead to CEO, achieving change is on every day’s agenda.

Some changes push people out of their comfort zone. At times like this you, as a manager, sometimes have to deal with – in your eyes – negative behavior or reactions and you interpret this as resistance to the change you want to realize. How can you best deal with resistance to change, or even better, how can you avoid it as much as possible?


One of the most common reasons people put on the brakes is because they simply don’t understand WHY things need to change. It may not go perfectly, but it goes well enough, right?

Maybe it sounds like kicking in an open door or you feel that you have already told that WHY message 10 times, but a lot of resistance stems from the fact that people do not understand why something should be done or why something should be done right now.

Why are we making this change? Why do I have to adjust my behavior or way of working? A good and conclusive answer to the WHY question is a crucial element in preventing resistance.


But if the answer to the WHY question was given, why is it that this remains a source of resistance?

Perhaps you have been less complete than you thought in sharing information about the WHY?

As a manager, you have often been aware of what needs to be done for some time, why things should change, what the context is, which possible alternatives were investigated, which change was ultimately chosen, what can happen if the change is not successful,…. You have mastered that essential information. There is a risk that during your communication (team meeting, kickoff, …) you will not share certain pieces of information. Obviously this is not a conscious choice, you view your knowledge as the frame of reference and in this way, you unconsciously share insufficient information to allow your audience to fully understand the WHY. They don’t have the same frame of reference as you, so make sure your communication delivers the elements for your audience to fully graps WHY this change is needed now.


There is also a pitfall on the receiving end. People are selective in processing information. Not all information is assigned the same importance or is actively registered. The filtering that we do as humans can play tricks on you in every communication, but in the context of a change there is an extra complicating factor. Let us call that factor the stress factor for the sake of convenience.

How does that stress factor work?

When you tell your employees about change, there is a chance that a number of people in your audience will experience that stress factor. That stress factor is triggered by the threat that a change message can contain and causes the eye blinders and ear plugs to be worn. Compare it to a feeling of fear that overtakes you and prevents you from thinking clearly.

In other words: in addition to the selective information processing that is inherent to the functioning of our brain, you as a change leader will have to take into account that stress factor, causing even less information to be registered.


Explaining WHY change is needed now, is one of the first steps to avoid resistance to change. From your perspective as a leader, you may feel that you have explained the WHY many times, but that does not necessarily mean that this information was received by your audience in its entirety and with all the necessary context information to properly understand it.


Dare to be critical! Ask the WHY question to a number of people in your organization / team / department. Ask them why the change is necessary and why it needs to happen now. You can learn a great deal from the answers to that question

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