Why Do Many of Us Resist Change?

Image: Bob RosnerThe pictures of people sitting on roof tops or being pulled out of their attics are permanently etched in all of our brains following Hurricane Katrina. And it raises a simple question, why didn’t people leave when the warnings were so clear of the dangers of the approaching storm?

Of course there are the obvious answers—many were poor and didn’t have a way to get out of town or a place to go once they did and many people had experience of surviving hurricanes and thought they’d weather this one.

These reasons make sense. But there is a bigger reason that I’ve not heard discussed; most of us are natural change resisters. Ask us to do something new and we’re ready to dig our heels in the ground and resist.

For example, as much as most of us complain about the status quo at work, we are often the first people who will be ready to fight when someone tries to change it. It’s sort of like that observation by Chico Marx, of the famous Marx Brothers comedy team, about his brother Harpo. Someone asked him if he loved his brother and Chico replied, “No but I’m used to him.” It’s how most of us are about the status quo at work, we don’t love it, but we’re used to it. And it’s usually tough to let go.

Which reminds me of a story that I heard from England. A man was caught by a police camera running a red light. He received in the mail a picture of his car running the light and a ticket from the police. He felt this was unfair, so he sent the police a picture of a check. The British police, according to an article in the newspaper, sent him a picture of a pair of handcuffs. The red light runner promptly sent in his check.

This story reminded me that no one should be surprised when people resist change. We should all come to expect it. We should give people a chance, like those British police did, to blow off some steam and to give the resisters compelling reasons to get with the program.

Resistance and resistors can often be won over. Let’s face it; we’ve all had to learn to accept spam, to pay part of our health care premiums, to survive cubicles and to accept that annoying button in the elevator that says “close door” but that never does. People can learn to accept change. Heck, they can learn to love it. But the people pushing the change have got to understand that how they approach people and what they approach people with to entice them to join the cause. This will have a huge impact on whether the change will be embraced or whether everyone will be drowning in a flood of problems.

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. If you have a question for Bob, contact him via bob@workplace911.com.

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Madeline Messa

Madeline Messa is a 3L at Syracuse University College of Law. She graduated from Penn State with a degree in journalism. With her legal research and writing for Workplace Fairness, she strives to equip people with the information they need to be their own best advocate.