All organizations have people who are opposed to changes in the status quo. These people have either helped create or worked within a structure for years, and it has become their comfort zone. Individuals like this will likely guard their zone fiercely and are opposed to policy change, feeling it could affect their job security. They may even feel that their authority has been threatened. It’s important to identify and deal with these individuals directly if you want to ensure the success of your new initiatives. Generally, there are two ways to approach people who resist or derail efforts to change:
- Co-opt Resistance: You work to change the individual’s position or point of view.
- Workaround Islands: You work around the individual because changing their point of view is impossible.
Which method you use is dependent upon the type of individual you encounter. In this discussion, we’ll identify the different personality types you’re likely to meet and examples of how to handle them effectively.
Type #1: What’s In It For Me?
This person has invested too much into their current point of view and is threatened by any change. The only way to connect with them is to prove that they will benefit from the change. To co-opt this type of personality, you’ll need to demonstrate that the current conditions are not sustainable and that your new proposals will improve their situation while lowering risk.
For the workaround technique, you’ll need to show that these changes are going to happen whether the person supports it or not. They need to know that shutting down or attempting to derail the changes will not stop progress being made. After all, it’s better to be a part of the future than to be left in the past. It’s important to show this type that their refusal to cooperate with changes is not going to benefit them.
Type #2: The Wheeler-Dealer
Rather than resisting your efforts, the Wheeler-Dealer is primarily interested in making some type of deal in exchange for their support. If the exchange is mutually beneficial, you can consider co-opting their resistance. For example, the VP of Human Resources might argue that it will take months to recruit the extra accounting personnel needed to upgrade your financial systems. The VP could offer a deal that would benefit everyone; if you release additional funding to upgrade HR’s reporting systems, it will speed up the recruitment process.
If exchanges offered by the Wheeler-Dealer are more akin to ransom, you may need to employ the workaround technique instead. You can do this by recruiting the assistance of your CEO or Division leader. In this situation, you could say something like, “I’ve prepared the way for implementation but have encountered a roadblock. It’s one that will require your direct clout to remove, since it’s an issue that involves corporate priorities and funding set from your office.” With their help, you can workaround the Wheeler-Dealer to find a solution.
Type #3: The Prima Donna
This type of individual believes they’re instrumental in helping the company attain and maintain its standing. In these cases, success has gone to the Prima Donna’s head and they will often point out why your ideas are problematic. Despite their successes, the Prima Donna is insecure and their goal is to demonstrate intellectual prowess to protect their position and prove their importance to the business. Prima Donnas might use the argument that they have developed priceless expertise over the course of many years — far more years than you have vested into the company or your own career. By undermining your qualifications, the Prima Donna hopes it will cause others, such as the CEO, to second-guess your initiatives or be overly cautious of them.
When dealing with a Prima Donna, acknowledge that their concerns may have a legitimate basis while demonstrating that those potential outcomes are unlikely to happen. Draw a parallel to how the organization has effectively handled other similar risks in the past, and provide information about how you can address any concerns. Providing preventive and contingent actions may help the Prima Donna, as well as others involved in the decision making, realize that there is no need for resistance. Don’t get into a fight; just allow the logic of your position to be embraced by others. Also, always stick to a group setting so the Prima Donna doesn’t have a chance to “misrepresent” things to others behind closed doors.
Type #4: The Passive-Aggressive
The passive-aggressive person will use many of the same tactics of the Prima Donna, however they will generally cloak their criticism by asserting that they’re looking out for the best interests of the organization. It’s hard to pin anything on them because they don’t come at you head on. The biggest challenge in dealing with a passive-aggressive person is that they often “forget” to follow through with their end of the deal, even after you think you’ve won them over and received the go-ahead for your endeavors. They may provide a plausible excuse, saying something like “We’ve been buried and simply haven’t had the time to follow through — We’ll hop right on it.” Meanwhile, another three weeks go by without any forward movement on the project.
With the passive-aggressive person, you’ll need to assemble the facts and lay them on the table. If that doesn’t work, cutting off any possible escape may be necessary. The Passive-Aggressive hates being cornered, but it could be the only recourse you have in this situation. You might tell this person, “There appears to be a problem that we can’t resolve. Let’s discuss this with your (or our) boss.” While they may not admit that they’ve passively resisted, it’s important that they understand that maneuvering around or undermining you is not an option.
Type #5: The Worriers
The major source of resistance will generally come from Worriers — people who are simply anxious and not actively opposed to changes. They are likely to resist any change, even positive, due to their anxiety. The other personality types above could easily sway a Worrier by exploiting their anxiety, so it’s important that you address a Worrier’s concerns before that can happen.
The best defense with a Worrier is a great offense. This is done by co-opting their resistance through open communication. Most Worriers want to know that you have a general idea of what’s ahead, and will be reassured if you present them with a coherent plan. Coming up with a game plan, even if you modify it later, will instill confidence in a previously anxious person. You want them to know that you’ve traveled on this road before, which you can do by communicating the following to your fellow executives:
- A general game plan for the next 3–6 months
- What results you hope to achieve
- How they can benefit from the plan
- How you plan to measure progress
- Possible hurdles so they can better prepare
- What recourse they have to ask questions
Moving Forward With Change
Confronting difficult people is a complex process, but you can make matters much easier by following the above suggestions. As the “great philosopher” Dolly Parton once said: “If you want the rainbow, you’ve got to put up with the rain.” It’s important to remember you can’t wish difficult people away; learning how to deal with these difficult personalities head-on will help you develop solutions that work.