There are two primary forms of resistance to change. The first, and easiest to deal with, is overt resistance. It is easily seen, outwardly demonstrated, and can be confronted directly since it is not easily deniable. The second is passive resistance, which is far more difficult to manage since it is deniable, and therefore more difficult to confront
Passive resistance can be identified by comments that fall into a group. Typical examples in response to a question about progress on new initiatives:
- I’m holding off until the workload lightens up.
- I need to hold off until vacations are over.
- We are collecting more data to be sure of where we are now.
- I need to makes sure everyone is on board before we move ahead.
There is a clear pattern here, every one of those responses uses the “company’s best interest” to avoid working in the company’s best interest. To further compound the issue, these excuses are generally sincere; the individual truly believes they are managing in the company’s best interest.
Your challenge is to break the logjam without breaking the spirit of the manager causing it. It is also difficult to argue with a manager who is closer to the ongoing demands and priorities than you are, and is well armed with seemingly “logical” defenses.
The first order of business is to pick your battles. If there are multiple initiatives on a manager’s plate, thin out the crowd and put some on hold. Make your selection(s) of what to retain and what to delay carefully. You will obviously have your highest priority, but that might not be the one to hold on to. You are going to have to invest your own “capital” to be successful; invest it wisely. Base your selection on:
- Which seem to have the least resistance from your manager.
- Which are likely to be least disruptive
- Which are likely to show positive results most quickly
Whether it is a single initiative or multiple initiatives that are being resisted, try to identify if there are specific issues causing most of the resistance. Be objective in evaluating that feedback; it just might be valid.
In cases where you can identify specific issues of concern, address them directly and work with your manager to make adjustments that can reduce their anxiety. Involve your manager in any changes to give them some level of ownership; they are far more likely to invest their own capital when they feel like co-authors.
Keep in mind that employees sense resistance in their managers, possibly even more than you do, and that resistance can be contagious. Go on the offensive, show them your commitment and your confidence; make your attitude contagious!
Passive resistance is commonly caused by fear and uncertainty of the outcome. The best “cure” for that fear and uncertainty is success; maintain your level of involvement and guidance at a level that will assure their success.
Then celebrate with them while you credit that success to your manager and your people.