How to overcome resistance to change at work

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Change is a problem at work because it disrupts existing habits. The subconscious mind memorizes routines we carry out regularly – this is why you can drive to work and not remember how you got there – your subconscious took over and memorized. This also explains why it is so difficult to quit smoking, change your eating habits and improve relationships.

Think of all the work routines you go through each day to see how repetitive they are. From meetings to getting your morning coffee or tea, to checking your email messages – you do most things in a routine. These habits are hard to break because you do them automatically. Think of how disruptive it can be when someone moves something, or changes something you are used to.

When we change something at work (or even at home) it requires our conscious mind to pay attention more – and this causes stress – until we repeat it often enough that our subconscious memorizes it as a new habit.

At work change is constant – new computer systems, changes in coworkers, a new manager, new procedures, a need to improve productivity, quality, get more sales – the list goes on and on. What we know is to change those results, we need to change the behaviours and most of those are habits run by the subconscious mind.

First, the leader/manager has to recognize that they are disrupting the subconscious habits of those around them. They need to explain why it is necessary – what the desired outcomes are and why they are better for the organization and the company. Next the managers needs to provide training and coaching to help people practice new skills and then encourage them to stick with it so they become proficient. The manager can then give praise for a job well done. Then the manager should remind people that even though they initially resisted the change, they were able to be successful.

Remember when you look back at changes in your life, most of them have turned out okay and you are likely better off and stronger because of it – so let’s be more open to change as it happens and realize that it is only a matter of time until the subconscious will memorize the new routine and make it less stressful to us.

I am speaking in Windsor:

Human Resources Professionals Association of Windsor – January 25th, 2007. It is a dinner
meeting at the Fogolar Furlan Club from 5:15 PM to 8 PM – Guests are welcome at $20 each. The topic is Increasing Your Persuasion and Influence as an HR Professional. For registration info, please visit and click the link for the event.