360-891-6113 [email protected]

Do People Really Resist Change?


People resist change. I hear this constantly. Quite frankly, I don’t believe it. If I offered to give you $5 million would that change your life? Would you resist that change? Under the right circumstances, people actually embrace change.


People resist change for two main reasons:

  1. They don’t believe the change will make things better.
  2. The risk or pain of change is too high.


The desire to change centers around pain. If the pain of changing is greater than the pain of not changing why should we expect a person to change? Sometimes the devil we know is preferable to the devil we don’t know. In other words, if we can’t quantify the pain associated with a specific change, we might prefer to stay with the pain we already have.


How should we define pain? Pain is caused by asking me to do something that potentially hurts me. The greater the anticipated pain, the greater the threat. If that anticipated pain is big enough, I might exaggerate the risk associated with it, even if the risk is small.


Here is an example. Let’s say I am holding a revolver with only one bullet in it. If I spin the chamber, and then ask if I can point it at you and pull the trigger, what will be your response? Of course you’ll call me crazy and call the police. But why? The probability of being shot is only one in six, or 17%). Isn’t that low?


Although the probability of risk is low, the consequence of the risk is high. And this is why I believe people are resistant to change. It’s all about the perception of danger that accompanies risk. And it has little to do with the likelihood of the risk actually occurring.


All change involves risk. Why? Because change requires movement, or doing something differently. Change can reverberate through many functions in an organization. As an example, if we change the selling process? What else is affected? Operations? Marketing? Customer relations? Finance and accounting? You guessed it. All of them.


To increase the probability of success and reduce the risk of pain, I use a tool called the 4 C’s:

  1. Clarity: We have a viable plan, and a process to accomplish it
  2. Confidence: We have trust in the plan, the process, the people, the system
  3. Competency: We have the skills to accomplish it
  4. Collection of past experiences: Are past experiences causing us to disbelieve that we can be successful?


Open and honest assessment of the 4 C’s will help minimize the probability of risk, and its severity.


Call or email me if you like a copy of my 1-page Change Management tool.

Steve Johnson