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Why Won't People Accept Change?

Why Won't People Accept Change?

Why Won't People Accept Change?

Why won't people accept change, even when they can see what they are doing is not bringing them what they want?

Here are a few of the most common reasons for people refusing to change:

  • They don't think they should have to change.
  • Change requires a change of habits.
  • Change introduces uncertainty.
  • They don't know what to change to.

They don't think they should have to change.

There is a child-like element in some people that clings to the simplistic notion that life should conform itself to the child's desires. And if life does not conform itself to the way the child thinks it OUGHT to be, then the child gets angry, upset and throws a temper tantrum. Most children grow out of it, but some don't.

They grow into adults with the same unstated premise in their mind that expects the world to conform to what they think it ought to be. When it does not, rather than take that as a signal to change their actions to correspond to the reality of the situation, they have a temper tantrum, saying, "I want the world to change. I will not change."

Change requires a change of habits.

Many people resist change because, fundamentally, we are all creatures of habit.

Humans organise their days by using habitual patterns of behaviour. We have speech habits, eating habits, good habits and bad habits. And we find it difficult to change our habits.

In some respects, habits are beneficial because they make the complex tasks of living more manageable. But in other ways habits are detrimental because they make us resistant to change.

Change introduces uncertainty.

Just as people love habits, they hate uncertainty. People much prefer certainty.

Humans need to react to circumstances that are forever changing and where knowledge is limited and uncertain. To cope with the inherent uncertainty of living, we create belief systems of politics, religion and social conduct, in order to provide us with a sense of certainty in an uncertain world. But change brings uncertainty.

They don't know what to change to.

Negative feedback means that what you have been doing, is not working and you need to change your current plan and action. But the question remains, "Change to what?"

The success formula only tells you that change is needed. It does not tell you specifically in what ways to change.

So, the thought occurs to you; If you change plan A to plan B, will plan B work any better than plan A? You cannot be certain. The thought crosses your mind "why not stick to the current failing plan, because it may be better than the untested new plan." Hence the phrase, "Better the devil you know".

Therefore, although people hate uncertainty, they will often stick to a plan that they know is failing, in preference to changing to the uncertainty of a new plan.

There are three ways to answer this problem.

  1. Look at Plan A and improve it in some small way. That would mean that Plan B is fundamentally the same as plan A, but with some minor adjustments.
  2. Throw out Plan A completely and start from scratch with a fresh piece of paper. This is a major change, and it is not easy to accomplish.
  3. Do anything. Just try anything and see what happens. This is my least favourite method, but it can sometimes work wonders. Do something whacky and unexpected. Break with convention and the habits of the past.

How can you get people to change?

You need to improve the current system you are using and that means that you need people to change from the current method and adopt the new system.

You need to know three fundamental principles about human beings and apply these principles to the issue of change management.

  1. Most people are motivated by their own self-interest.
  2. Most people think most about the short-range consequences of their actions. They don't think much about the long-range consequences of their actions.
  3. Most people don't like things that are too complex. They like things to be simple.

From this, we can derive the following three methods about how to get people to change.

How to get people to change: Rule 1

Since most people are motivated by their own self-interest, then it is important to sell the idea of change in terms of the benefits it will bring for the person making the change, not for the benefit of everyone else.

How to get people to change: Rule 2

Most people think more about the short-range consequences of their current actions. They don't think much about the long-range consequences.

Focus their attention on the long-term consequences of the change. You will have to acknowledge the short-term pain, but don't get caught up for too long on the short-term consequences. Focus on the long term.

How to get people to change: Rule 3

Make changes small and simple, not large and complex. It is important to present the change program as an evolution, not a revolution.

Revolutionary change seems to be catastrophic, painful and costly.
Evolutionary change is smaller, gradual, progressive and not painful.

You need to do all you can to make the big change, look more like a series of small changes. Make change programme seem like a progressive evolution, not an aggressive revolution.

Effectively Manage Change

It is important to remember that if you want things to get better, then you must be willing to accept change and willing to make and implement some tough changes.

Change management is an acceptance of the fact that the current situation is never static. We must equip ourselves with the ability to accept and implement change.

Create the right attitude by memorising and living in accordance with a simple, success formula: Purpose, Plan, Action, Feedback, Change

  1. State your purpose (first to survive and then to grow!)
  2. Formulate in writing, your best plan,
  3. Take decisive action, based on the plan
  4. Gather and evaluate the feedback, both the positive and the negative. Discover where the plan isn't working.
  5. Make progress by continually changing, according to the continuous feedback.

Remember that all good progress is made by continually changing, making continuous evolutionary steps towards a stated goal.

Managing Negative Attitudes To Change

Your role as a manager in managing change, is at follows:

1. To engage in a process of managing conversations.

2. To notice the content of conversations and categorising the type. Is it future bad, fearful, or past bad, angry upset? Is it past was better conversations; nostalgic, discontented, or future good conversations and optimistic?

3. Put limits on the amount of time spent on negative conversations.

4. Take control of excessive talk about the bad past, the bad future and the good old days.

5. Encourage conversations about now and the future will be good.

Change Management Training

To learn more about change management, please check out our Change Management training course.

There IS a better way: Let's find it. Thomas Edison

About the Author: Chris Farmer


Chris Farmer is the founder of the Corporate Coach Group and has many years’ experience in training leaders and managers, in both the public and private sectors, to achieve their organisational goals, especially during tough economic times. He is also well aware of the disciplines and problems associated with running a business.

Over the years, Chris has designed and delivered thousands of training programmes and has coached and motivated many management teams, groups and individuals. His training programmes are both structured and clear, designed to help delegates organise their thinking and, wherever necessary, to improve their techniques and skills.

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Further Reading in Change Management

  • Leadership Training - The Universal Success Formula
    The Universal Success Formula We all want to be more successful. But how does one do that? Answer: Be guided by "success principles". What are success principles? Success principles are a set of generalised instructions that lay down the steps that you need to take, in order to achieve a certain...
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  • A New Vision for Britain
    Theresa May promised at the Conservative conference that "a change has got to come" as she outlined her vision for Britain. This new vision will require a radical change in thinking.
    Read Article >
  • Why do people resist change?
    People are creatures of habit and resist change because it is too difficult, or unproven to be better than what they are currently doing. Better the devil you know, is a well-used phrase when it comes to change, but should you accept it?
    Read Article >
  • Why do people hate change?
    Humans find change difficult. Fundamentally, we are creatures of habit. We operate according to habits which we repeat every day and we find it difficult to change our habits, even our bad habits.
    Read Article >
  • Effectively manage change
    Effectively Manage Change Change management training is important because there have been enormous changes in the way that we shop, how we entertain ourselves, how we spend our leisure time and how we do business. But for many, this change means a feeling of uncertainty. Most people don't like uncertainty: they...
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