How to Overcome Resistance to Change in Others and Yourself

If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change – Wayne Dyer
If you view people who don’t agree with you as resistant, it often triggers you to press your point and prove them wrong. This usually causes the conflict between you to escalate, make things worse and to get in the way of progress.

What if we considered that resistance doesn’t exist, but rather what exists is each person needing to persist in what they believe to be true which informs their identities and which they will protect from anything or anyone else telling them any differently?
When Jack Welch was CEO at GE he oversaw the most successful company in the world, one that thrived on change and on even changing people that couldn’t adapt to change and produce. However during his tenure he was quoted as saying, “I avoided the Internet because I didn’t know how to type.” That possibly resulted in GE being late to that market.

But was this resistance? Or was it that Welch was very clear about  what his core competencies were which translated to what he was confident about which translated into where he felt he could exercise most control. Not knowing how to type which in his mind equaled accessing the Internet, and this possibly meant his staying away from it so he could remain closer to his core competencies.

Is it possible that many people in companies that appear to resist new technology are in fact trying to remain focused on what they feel competent and confident about although they are experienced as resistant by their IT department?  Might the fact that most non-technical leaders are intimidated by technology explain why many Directors of public companies do not even know the name of the CTO?
There is a common saying that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

Our hypothesis is that resistance doesn’t exist, but rather the aforementioned kind of insanity of doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. What does exist is non-rational (meaning their position doesn’t make sense with regard to a changing and differently demanding reality), non-functional (meaning their position is not aligned with change initiatives that their company is attempting) and self-preservation.

 And like Welch, every effort to move them away from preserving what they believed to be true triggers a need to protect them.
Just seeing another person stuck in a state of self-preservation instead of intentionally fighting and resisting you can spontaneously calm your attitude and change the way you approach them.

Now it is time to discuss what the self is and how it comes to form and becomes so self-protective.  We learned that through evolution we went from a single cell animal controlled by a nucleus to a human being with a cerebral cortex with the potential for that cerebral cortex to control and override more primitive animal instincts and tendencies below. And as our human cortex developed it became capable of highly specialized thinking, analysis and problem solving.  That very unique capability is what separates humans from all other living creatures.


However, as we became more and more specialized, the more our identity and selves were defined by whatever that specialized ability is. When you’re a hammer, the world looks like a nail. And when you’re an extremely logical and analytical person, the world looks like a problem to be solved.  By the way this may explain why so many marriages fall apart when the analytical and logical partner turns all the relationship issues into a problem to be solved whereas the other person wants to be related to instead. Relating involves letting go of what you believe to be true and trying to understand what the other person is feeling and then doing your best to relate to it.  When you are able to do that the other person feels closer to you, but when you try to convert your relationship into a problem to be solved, they feel demeaned by you. That of course, causes you to feel that they are crazy.

We also learned that a person’s self is a combination of their thoughts (upper human 250,000 year old brain), emotions (middle mammalian 65 million year old brain) and their actions (lower reptilian 245 million year old brain) and how those three brains are aligned. When their three brains are aligned with a current reality and functioning very effectively and efficiently with it, people feel competent, confident and in control. And the more specialized a person is the more in control he feels when the reality they are dealing with lines up with that specialized self.


However, when reality changes and their three brains do not line up well with it, a ripple effect is created in their three brains and their mind.  The more the misalignment continues and the more their three brains and minds feel out of alignment with the new reality, especially a new reality that is not going to change, the more stress that person feels.

In essence, stress is caused by the alignment of your three brains becoming increasingly misaligned with a new reality.  When you’re under stress you can still focus with difficulty on a goal and move towards it.  And although the alignment is not perfect it is still manageable and even if you don’t achieve the absolute best result, you can still achieve an acceptable one.

However, when the reality moves too far away from how your brains and mind are aligned, and the results consistently are unsatisfactory or unacceptable, the three brains begin to pull apart.  This can result in your thinking, feelings and actions becoming disconnected. Common American phrases for this condition are: a) coming unglued; b) falling apart; c) becoming wigged out; d) losing your mind; e) being out of sorts (i.e. your upper cortex can no longer sort out the current reality and evaluate and assess it).

At that point stress becomes distress and you lose site of the goals you are aiming for in your job and your goal instead becomes relieving the distress.

Whenever there is a situation where one person perceives another as being resistant, what in essence is happening is that neither person can actually and literally see “eye to eye.”  That is because the reality that one person’s three brains and mind line up with and believe is different from the reality that the other person’s three brains and mind lines up with.

So what can be done to turn this situational diplopia into a convergent and collaborative vision that is much more than the sum of two monocular visions? The answer is to try what I refer to as an “olive branch on steroids.”  What that means is to offer an unsolicited apology and even more.

I am certain many of you are arching your backs at the mention of the suggestion of an apology.  You can certainly reject it and instead go back to trying to force change upon others.  And perhaps that will work, but given the way the younger generation is reacting to having things forced upon them, I don’t know how much luck you will have forcing change on them and having it stick. Or if it does, having it not cause huge resentment and some form of retaliation later on.

On the other hand an unsolicited apology “on steroids” can be incredibly powerful, because it is one of the few things that people are defenseless against.


  1. By Jim Lee


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