Change. It’s inevitable, it’s a core part of our human condition. From the time our earliest ancestors first devised simple tools from sticks and flints to our splitting the atom and exploring beyond the boundaries of our universe. Ours is a species that does not sit still and stagnate, change is in our blood and changes come now with greater rapidity than they ever have before
So why is it change is so often met with great resistance, whether in the workplace or at home? Why is it that there is so much reliance on ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it’, than giving new methodologies and ways of thinking a fair go?
OK, clearly there are individual differences or dispositional factors associated with change. Some people embrace it, moreover they thrive on it while others resist and push back against the steady march of progress. Certainly there are some broad strokes that can be applied to this state of affairs, the young are generally more willing to embrace change than older generations but then they likely have far fewer habitual responses set in place or less to lose.
In addition to this do gender and culture have influences into our ability to manage change? Do those with little power react differently to those in ‘control’? Psychologists have found several sorts of personality factors that they believe relate to change.
Neuroticism/Adjustment - Neurotics are of course prone to anxiety and depression. They see threat and danger everywhere and hyper vigilant for threats. In order to survive the stresses of the workplace they need very effective coping strategies. change inevitably leads to stress because they are prone to worry more about what it means, what they need to do, to learn and how they will cope.
Self-Efficacy and Control - Some people believe they captain their own ship, masters of their fate if you will. Fir the most part they control their destiny and they are personally efficacious. They fall into sharp contrast with fatalists who believe that chance, fate and the power of others influence everything. Those who believe they have control generally cope better.
Tolerant of Ambiguity - Some people feel threatened by the lack of clarity and uncertainty that change brings. They like things to be open, clear, predictable and orderly. even in an unstable and unpredictable work environment they strive to avoid uncertainty through the use of rules, regulations and rituals that dictate behaviour. The more comfortable people are around ambiguity the easier it is for them to accept and embrace change.
About eight years ago, a pair of Israeli psychologists worked on a simple measure of personal resistance to change (Journal of Applied Psychology, 2010) They found four factors that predicted an individuals resistance to imposed change in the work environment.
Routine Seeking. Many people like a stable routine. They would rather be bored than surprised. They take comfort in their daily rituals which change threatens to destabilise.
Stress and Tension. Any threat to stability can make some individuals experience high levels of discomfort. Any change at work can signal danger, which leads to worry which can, in time, lead to a drop in performance. This event could then necessitate further change and begin a cycle of events and stresses.
Short-term Thinking. Here people tended to focus on the immediate inconvenience and discomfort even if they were aware of the long term benefits that a change in procedure would bring with it across the workplace. The short term focus, while irrationals, seems surprisingly common.
Cognitive Rigidity. This is a profound and illogical dislike of changing one’s mind and view and uses such irrational resistance to changes that it acts as a doorway for a great many other negative perceptions to invade and colour the workplace.
Most people are, and rightly so, ambivalent about change. Much depends on your experience of change and to the extent on which it is imposed from those above. Equally, and possibly more importantly, is the persons attitude towards the ‘change agent’ - usually senior management. The worst combination is having someone who is disposition ally resistant to change who also fundamentally distrusts the change agent. But if the messenger is trusted then even the most change-o-phobic person can go along with new rules and procedures.
Adapted from article from Adrian Furnham Ph.D.
“When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.” Benjamin Franklin
“If you don’t like change, you will like irrelevance even less.” Gen. Eric Shinseki
“He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery.” Harold Wilson
“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” John F. Kennedy
“Change is inevitable - except from a vending machine.” Robert C. Gallagher