Resitance to change LO24427

From: Richard Seel (
Date: 04/24/00

Replying to LO24411 --

>I am interested in identifying factors which make change efforts
>successful and unsuccessful. The literature has several theories, but I
>have found very few empirical studies.

No empirical studies, but a speculation...

When I reflect on my personal experience of change, I find that what
threatens me and makes me reluctant to change is what I perceive as an
assault on my identity. Perhaps I may briefly share a story to illustrate.

Some time ago I attended a Christian counselling course. One of the tutors
(Tom) seemed to me to be very pushy - always challenging us (me) to
explore new depths of faith. I was most reluctant and resistant and came
to dislike him very strongly, though many others on the course found him
inspiring and approachable. As I reflected on this, I became aware of a
kind of self-metaphor: I realised that my faith (which seemed strong and
secure to me at that time) felt like living in a garden; a lush, green,
beautiful garden surrounded with high walls and verdant trees.

Within this garden I was content, secure, happy. The last thing in the
world I wanted to do was to leave it - which is exactly what I felt that
Tom was urging me to do. On the penultimate day of the course the four
leaders were each due to run an afternoon workshop and we could choose
whose we would attend. I knew for certain that I would not be attending

Yet as the week wore on I also had an increasing sense that this was
exactly where I had to go. So, after much struggle, I turned up at his
group on the Thursday afternoon. I was dreading it, I was dreading him, I
was even dreading the other participants.

I don't know if peak experiences always start from a low point but this
certainly did. The Tom I experienced there was gentle, supportive and
loving - a completely different person from the one I had experienced
earlier in the week. And most importantly, I learned that I didn't have to
leave the security of my beautiful garden. Instead, I was being invited to
move its walls; to allow it to become larger, more varied, an even better
place to be. And it was so...

Experiences like this have led me to believe that change is often resisted
because it is perceived as a threat to *identity*. And I believe that the
same is true in an organisational context. In organisations, as in
personal life, we vest much of our identity in rituals or symbols or
images. If someone asks us (or even worse, tells us) to change some of
those rituals, symbols or images if can feel as if they are wanting to
lose our identity - and that is a terrible thing.

Organisational change programmes often focus on processes, procedures,
reward & recognition, and so on. Many of the proposed changes can be
rationally justified and are obvious to everyone. Yet they are resisted
and sabotaged in subtle ways; negativity and cynicism become commonplace
and everyone gets to blame the consultants when nothing seems to change

Part of the reason for this may be that we often pay too little attention
to organisational identity and so bring all sorts of out of awareness
resistances into play, making change much more difficult. Organisational
identity does not reside in processes, procedures, etc. but it is often
*expressed through them*. So, simply trying to change them, however good a
case can be made, is unlikely to succeed.

The answer, probably, is to facilitate supportive conversations about what
is core and what is contingent - but this post is already too long so I'll
say no more at present.

Best wishes,

Richard Seel

New Paradigm Consulting
Organisation Consultancy & Development

Seabrink, Beach Road, Bacton Green, Norfolk NR12 0EP, UK.
+44 (0)1692 650 706


Richard Seel <>

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