There is no best way to overcome and manage resistance to change. 


Because there is no single cause of resistance to change. 

Many theorists and practitioners suggest three broad strategies which help change managers to manage resistance to change. The first is natural cycle which refers to individual’s natural coping and adjusting process with change. The second strategy refers to creating change as attraction for employees and third is contingency strategy which refers to managing resistance by adopting and following methods as the context or situation of change demands. 

Let’s learn more and find further explanation of these strategies 

Natural Coping Cycle 

Individual reactions to change typically involve working through a series of natural psychological stages. This progression is known as the coping cycle, and models of this process are often based on the work of Elizabeth Kübler-Ross (1969), who studied human responses to traumatic events such as the death of a close relative.

The application of her work to change management is based on the assumption that, for at least some people, major organizational and career changes can also be very traumatic. Under those conditions, resistance to change is predictable. Cynthia Scott and Dennis Jaffe (2006), for example, describe a coping cycle with four stages: 

1. Denial:   This involves a refusal to recognize the situation; “this can’t be happen- ing,” “it will all blow over.” The person is not receptive to new informa- tion and refuses to believe that he or she needs to behave differently, or is prepared to make only minor adjustments. 

2. Resistance: This stage begins with the recognition that the situation is real; the past is mourned, and stress may increase; active and passive forms of resistance may be demonstrated. This can be seen as a positive stage, as the individual lets go of the past and becomes more confident in his or her ability to deal with the future. 

3. Exploration: This involves reenergizing and a preparedness to explore the possibili- ties of the new situation. 

4. Commitment: The individual finally focuses attention on new courses of action. 

Individuals have different tendency towards change. They have their own pace of coming out of emotional phase and adjusting with change. Some individuals remain stuck in denial and resistance and this is where change managers should not leave it to natural coping strategy and find some other way or resort to other strategies. 

Attraction Strategies 

Some of practitioners of change management believe that the best way to overcome or manage change is to create attractions for employee. These attractions can be tangible or intangible. But these attractions should be communicated effectively to kill all overt and covert resistance. It is the task of change managers to design and present change in a way that change looks compelling and appealing to all those who resist change. 

For this to happen, change managers should have a good understanding of underlying causes of resistance and who are resisting. This understanding will enable change managers to make close relationship with employees who resist change. 

For making change attractions, change managers should identify relevant questions which will help to identify attractions which can be offered in a particular situation: 

  • How will this change benefit employees, customers/clients and organization ? 
  • How will current problems and issues of employees be resolved? 
  • How will this change will improve productivity?
  • How will this improve future career prospects of employees?
  • What will be short term benefits and gains for those who are involved in change? 
  • How could these gains be used to make further improvements? 

Organizations do have some senior managers with extraordinary communication skills and special power and capacity to influence other employees. They act like a strong influencer. It is the job of senior management to first identify those influencers and then they are tasked with convincing other employees with their motivational skills. If they are able to rightly position positives or attractions of change to employees who resist change then they will be able convince them in no time. Then it will become a movement which results into a successful implementation of change without any hurdle.

Contingency Strategies  

If natural coping strategy and attraction strategies are not working then there may be some strong causes of resistance. Therefore, a proper diagnosis should be done first and then find out what specific method is to be used to overcome or manage resistance. 

In 2008, John Kotter and Leo Schlesinger presented contingency approaches to overcome and manage resistance to organizational change. 

1. Education and Communication

Educating employees about change is the best technique to address resistance to change. People usually lack information about change and they have low understanding about benefits of change.  They sometimes fail to relate to change. As ADKAR model of change emphasises on knowing organisational change is the most important first step to implement it. This model says that all employees should be on same page and clear about the rationale behind change. With good knowledge about change and its benefits, there is less chance of resistance from employees. 

Advantage: Education and communication about change will increases commitment and motivation level of employees and help reconciles with opposing view. 

Disadvantage: Education and communication is a naturally slow process and it takes long time.

2. Participation and Involvement

Employees resist change when they are not consulted and engaged at the very onset of change process. With passage of time, employees begin to fret about the uncertain future of change. Consequently, they start to resist change. 

They are sacred about unknown future of their organization. This fear of unknown can be addressed by taking everyone on board at the design phase of change. When employees are involved and given opportunities to participate then they start to own the change. They become part of the change process and it reduces their fear about change. 

Advantage: Participation and involvement of employees in change process will reduce fear about unknown results of change.

Disadvantage: Participation and involvement of employees is also a slow process and it takes some  time to address resistance to change. 

3. Facilitation and Support  

Employees resist change when they are anxious about change and what change holds for them and what is impact of change on their career and growth. This fear and anxiety lead to resistance from employees. Organizations need to provide with facilitation and support to employees who are anxious about change.

Training is the most popular way of facilitation and support. New skills and knowledge imparted to employees always help reducing resistance. But training alone is not enough. Change managers should also arrange and convene special discussion session where employees are encouraged to discuss change and vent off their frustration. This helps to cater emotional needs of employees which should be taken care for managing resistance.

Advantage: It increase awareness and understanding about change and also provide genuine opportunity for employees to embrace change. 

Disadvantage: Facilitation and support needs lot of resources so it also takes long time is slow and expensive as well. 

4. Negotiation and Agreement 

Resistance to change is very obvious and significant when employees are not convinced with vision and rationale of change. They perceive change as total disaster and not ready to cooperate. They consider change as total harmful and refuse to participate in discussion session. This widespread resistance threatens entire change process. 

To address this resistance, change leaders and managers need to negotiate with employees by offering them incentives and other benefits. These negotiations and agreements must be well thought-out and planned with an aim to genuinely overcome strong resistance.  negotiation to reach agreement. 

Advantage: If negotiation and agreement is done properly and successfully then it can totally eliminate all types and kind of resistance. 

Disadvantage: Negotiation and agreement is a hard task and can be expensive as well. 

5. Manipulation and Co-optation 

There are some powerful stakeholders who are difficult to manage and strong opponent of change. Change leaders opt to talk to only those powerful stakeholders. They offer them benefits and positions to get them on their side. They even make them change agents to get their buy-in. 

Change leaders must pick up their agents wisely because they are the ones who will sell change to others in organizations. If change leaders are successful in manipulation of few individuals, then they can overcome resistance at large scale. 

Advantage: As compared to others, this method is quicker and it does not need lot of resources. It is inexpensive.

Disadvantage: It can be proved counter-productive when employees begin to feel that they are manipulated and their genuine concerns and needs are not addressed by change leaders.

6. Explicit and Implicit Coercion 

Coercion, whether explicit or implicit, should be the last option for any change leader.  When resistance is widely spread and nothing seems to be working in favour of change, then change leaders start to frustrate. They see no willingness on the part of employees and other stakeholders to accept and participate in change process. 

If this situation goes unaddressed it can spoil entire change initiative. They should only then resort to coercive ways to overcome resistance. But before this they should communicate everyone about using coercion and this should be the last option when every other method is failed. 

Advantage: Coercion is quick and overpowers resistance in short period of time. 

Disadvantage: It can be counter-productive especially when employees feel annoyed and remained unchanged. 

Take Home Points: 

  • These three broad sets of approaches and strategies to overcome or manage resistance to change.  
  • Selection of an appropriate strategy depends on type of resistance and cause of resistance.
  • In natural coping strategy, resistance can be overcome by giving time to individuals to come out of denial and naturally adjust with change. 
  • Another strategy is to offer attractions through motivating and influencing who resist change. 
  • There are widely known 06 contingency strategies to overcome resistance. 
  • First, educate and communicate about change so that employees have complete knowledge about change. 
  • Second, involve those who resist change. They should be consulted so they get ownership of change. 
  • Third, facilitate and support employees by giving them opportunities to strengthen their skills and emotional intelligence.
  • Fourth, negotiate with employees by offering benefits and incentives
  • Fifth, manipulate and co-opt with few powerful individuals and win their buy-in. 
  • Sixth, go for explicit or implicit coercive techniques to overcome resistance.