Business Psychology - Latest Findings

Article No. 262
Business Practice Findings, by James Larsen, Ph.D.

A Test for Resisting Change

New research offers an explanation for resistance to change that troubles some people.

Do you resist change?

In today's business world, you know the correct answer, it's "No!" Resisting change puts you in the same category as buggy whip manufacturers who believed growing auto sales would not force them to change their product, or Henry Ford who insisted that customers could purchase his Model T automobiles in any color they wanted as long as it was black. Resisting change is fool hardy, and of course, you wouldn't do it.

Or would you? Let's test you.

Copy the following statements and then write six possible responses below each one: strongly disagree, disagree, slightly disagree, slightly agree, agree, and strongly agree. Make a half dozen photocopies, then answer one yourself. Give five people the other copies and then compare the answers. Assign numbers to people's responses: strongly disagree = "1," disagree = "2," and so on. Finally produce a total score for each person by adding the numbers.

Here are the statements:

    1. I'll take a routine day over a day full of unexpected events any time.
    2. I like to do the same old things rather than try new and different ones.
    3. I'd rather be bored than surprised.
    4. When I am informed of a change of plans, I tense up a bit.
    5. When things don't go according to plans, it stresses me out.
    6. Changing plans seems like a real hassle to me.
    7. I sometimes find myself avoiding changes that I know will be good for me.
    8. Once I've come to a conclusion, I'm not likely to change my mind.
    9. My views are very consistent over time.

According to research conducted by Shaul Oreg from Cornell University (now at the University of Haifa in Israel), the person with the highest score will most strongly resist beneficial change. The person with the lowest score will have the least trouble with it.

[Note: Oreg's full survey contains 16 items. It is reproduced in the reference cited below.]

Professor Oreg recently recognized a need to resolve a dispute in applied psychology. The dispute pitted six theories against one another that tried to explain why some people resist beneficial change. Each emphasized a different personality characteristic. Oreg composed statements reflecting each of the theories and then used an empirical approach to resolve the underlying structure of the disposition to resist change. He ran the analysis seven times with seven different groups, and came up with the same structure each time. There are four factors in this disposition, and they are reflected in the statements listed above.

When you reacted to the first three statements, you were revealing the importance routines play in your life. That's the first factor. The next two statements reflect your emotional reactions to changes that are imposed upon you, like being forced to relocate. That's the second factor. The sixth and seventh statements reveal the irritation and distraction you feel when implementing a change. If you strongly agreed with these statements, then you probably avoid even those changes that are clearly good for you, like taking a needed vacation. The final two statements reveal your stubbornness in changing your mind.

To summarize, the four factors in resisting beneficial change are: 1) comfort from routine, 2) emotional reaction to imposed change, 3) irritability implementing change, and 4) stubbornness in changing your mind. The more these things are true of you, the more resistant you are to beneficial change.

Let's jump ahead in time to a scene in which you are examining the six copies of the completed survey. Imagine for a moment that you are led to a conclusion that you are more resistant to change than you realized . . . more resistant than you'd like to be. How can you help yourself? Oreg's research suggests some possibilities.

First, preserve elements of your comfortable routine as you implement change. For example, when you travel, rest at the times you normally rest. Second, anticipate inconveniences that will arise as you implement change. If you plan carefully, you can eliminate surprises and mitigate inconveniences. For example, liberal use of reservations when you travel can eliminate problems meeting basic needs. Finally, try to maintain a long view to help you overlook immediate inconveniences and remember eventual benefits.

Reference: Oreg, Shaul (2003) Resistance to Change: Developing an Individual Differences Measure. Journal of Applied Psychology, 88(4), 680-693.

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