People Resist Change?

July 30, 2003 | Tags:

Every now and then, I hear someone say, "People resist change." Most of the time, the person say this has made some specific proposal, to which some other person has responded by resisting. Other times, one person is saying this to console another who is experiencing resistance. "People resist change" is offered as a kind of explanation. Why are those people resisting? Because people resist change.

How discouraging! If it's true that people resist change, what hope could I possibly have for any proposal? Yuck.

Fortunately, it isn't true. That is, it isn't universally true that every person always resists every change. For example, there's a good chance that right now you are reading this article in the hope that you will learn something new and useful. You're not resisting change, you're seeking change.

Each of us resists some changes, accepts some changes, and actively seeks out yet other changes. Our preferences for which changes we will resist, accept, or seek differs from one person to the next. We might resist a change at one moment and welcome it at another time, in another situation.

If what I'm saying is true, if each person resists some changes and not others, if each person might resist a given change at one time and accept the same change at another time, what makes the difference? What leads a person to accept or reject a particular change at a particular time?

I'll leave the answers as an exercise for the reader. I offer the following experiments, from which I've learned a great deal about how people decide which changes to accept and which to resist.

Experiment: For one week, notice everything that anyone asks you to do (in whatever form, including demands, suggestions, advice, and so on). Which things do you choose to do? What are your reasons for choosing to do those things? Which do choose not to do? What are your reasons for choosing not to do those things? What patterns do you notice in your answers?

Experiment: Ask a dozen or more people the following questions:

What patterns do you notice in people's answers?

Experiment: Tell me (either privately or by posting a comment below) what you've learned from these experiments. (Note that I've just made a request of you. What are your reasons for doing or not doing what I've asked?)