Resistance to Change

The concept of the three levels of resistance comes from the American author and change consultant Rick Maurer.

The Three Levels of Resistance According to Maurer

  • 1. Cognitive Resistance: “I don’t understand!”

    Cognitive resistance occurs on a rational level. By listening, understanding, and providing logical explanations, you can find common ground on this factual level. This resistance often stems from a lack of information, a sense of incompleteness, and disengagement: “Please explain it to me – I want to understand!”
  • 2. Emotional Resistance: “I don’t like it!”

    Emotional resistance occurs when changes are understood but not accepted: “I get it, but I don’t agree.” Changes are often associated with more work, risks, conflicts, and loss of stability. These emotional reactions are often felt intuitively and not consciously acknowledged.
  • 3. Relationship Resistance: “I don’t like you!”

    This form of resistance occurs on a personal relationship level. Feelings like “I don’t like you” or “I don’t trust you” are often unspoken but directed toward the person or people responsible for the change. Trust, acceptance, goodwill, and loyalty are essential qualities that ensure we believe in each other and assume the best intentions. When these qualities are absent, distrust, rejection, resentment, and opportunism prevail.

Approaches to Managing Resistance

Level 1: Cognitive Resistance – “I don’t understand.”

  1. Recognize the legitimate reaction to change in a joint discussion:
    • “You’re right, it’s not easy to understand.”
    • “Yes, the team is already under a lot of stress.”
    • “Indeed, we have several simultaneous changes, which is challenging.”
  2. Ask questions:
    • “What exactly don’t you understand?”
    • “Do you have information that I might have overlooked?”
    • “What do you think should be done differently?”
  3. Stick to your core message but be flexible in implementation:
    • “From my perspective, the change is important because…”
    • “What do you need to help us shape the future together?“

Level 2: Emotional Resistance – “I don’t like it.”

Take time for a conversation with the person resisting and remember that they might be in a different phase of the change process than you. They could be experiencing worry and uncertainty, phases you might have already gone through. Use the following points as a guide:

  • Acknowledge the legitimate reaction.
  • Thank them for their engagement.
  • Set the (content) framework for the conversation and ask for cooperation.

Your task is to recognize and respect the person’s negative feelings while also associating positive emotions with the change. For instance, explain that the change can lead to relief, security, clarity, and new opportunities. Discuss these points together and evaluate the pros and cons of stability versus change in the current process.

Level 3: Relationship Resistance – “I don’t like you.”

Building trustful relationships takes time. Stay engaged and patient when addressing this level of resistance. Understanding and resolving resistance on this level requires more effort than on levels one and two. Establishing a trusting relationship based on mutual understanding and respect is a process that cannot be achieved through a single conversation. However, a discussion can be the starting point for understanding differing perspectives. Trust, respect, and mutual responsibility should be evident in both conversations and everyday actions.

  • Foster positive and trustful relationships with your employees.
  • Keep your word.
  • Provide as much transparency as possible and proactively explain any unexpected changes during the change process.

Use this opportunity to discuss leadership and collaboration definitions and practices with the resistant individual. This can lead to mutual agreements, understanding, and communication routines for everyday work.

Personalized Consultation

We’re happy to provide a consultation tailored to your needs. Share your situation with us, and we’ll be glad to assist you.