Reflections on Strategies to tackle troublesome situations arising from resistance to change

“Every Change begins with oneself” 

Encountering troublesome situations during implementations is a reality, especially considering the diverse nature of Asia. Two seemingly similar locations can differ significantly in their operational methods. Troublesome situations can arise due to social defence mechanisms triggered by anxieties related to change. Unmanaged anxieties can prompt individuals to adopt regressive social defences to mitigate tensions, including behaviours like splitting, projection, displacement, and denial.

Reflecting on one instance, I had to initiate a change within the global team without the arrival of new resources or colleagues from headquarters. This change, while beneficial for the organisation, threatened various informal relationships across communities, sparking anxiety among colleagues and partners. Their fear centred around the potential impact on their livelihoods or secondary incomes, leading to the emergence of a threatening "poison pen" letter similar to the one my predecessor had received as a death threat. Fortunately, I managed to address these anxieties by leveraging the trust and relationships established with a progressive segment of the local teams. This allowed me to effectively navigate the situation and eventually welcome the much-needed resources.

Key learnings from these experiences include: 

  1. Managing through psychodynamic methods to address and contain anxieties arising from change.
  2. Avoiding implementation of change initiatives without adequate resource backup and establishing support from local allies (change managers and agents).
  3. Utilising cognitive behavioural approaches to examine the beliefs of those resistant to change, critically evaluating their justification for resistance.
  4. Focusing efforts on weakening the link between problematic behaviours and established habitual patterns.
  5. Emphasising face-to-face conversations held in a safe environment and daily mentoring sessions aimed at weakening the perceived connection between troublesome behaviours and the perception of correctness among those resistant to change.

The example I shared underscores the significance of understanding the cultural dynamics when operating across various countries, particularly in distinguishing between collectivist and individualist cultures and leveraging group collaboration. Cultural norms often emphasise the preservation of one's "face," where reciprocity through empathy is expected. In scenarios with heavy project workloads, individuals might choose to remain silent, potentially leading to feelings of resentment.

The concern arises from potential misunderstandings in communication styles, which might be perceived as having different intentions. Such misunderstandings can make individuals uncomfortable or even feel threatened by the situation. Therefore, individuals managing change initiatives must consider their approach, likeability, and level of assertiveness. It's essential to avoid generalising behaviours across Asia and instead understand and respect the unique cultural nuances of individual cultural pockets within the region.

Strategies to Tackle Resistance to Change

The key to behaviour modification lies in adjusting one's own approach. Cognitive-behavioural techniques are crucial in addressing resistance to change, especially when the parties resistant to change firmly believe their behaviour is correct. Breaking their cycle of arbitrary interpretation is essential. This involves critically examining their beliefs to assess their logical justification and disrupting the established cycle. 

It's imperative to clearly define the revised role within the change and identify primary tasks and focus efforts on weakening the link between problematic behaviour and habitual patterns.

To implement these strategies effectively:

  • Encourage the practice of new behaviours through coaching or assignments provided by managers.
  • Emphasise journaling to reflect on experiences.
  • Utilise mentoring to model desired behaviours.
  • Offer rewards to reinforce and condition the desired change in behaviour.
  • Employ relaxation techniques and imagery for desensitisation.
  • Conduct reality testing by challenging automatic thoughts or beliefs.

By following these methods, individuals can effectively address resistance to change and promote a more adaptive approach to behavioural transformation.

The article is part 2 of a reflection by Wong Mei Wai, Founder CEO & Chief Change Advisor, APAC Global Advisory and written by Chang Hui Tze, Marketing & BD Manager, APAC Global Advisory post the “ Managing Resistance to Change” webinar collaboration of APAC Global Advisory and Issoria.