Why won’t they change?

Graphic of a clock segment in black and white with "time for change" written around the edge; the hands point to "change" which is written in red.I know it’s hard to believe, but there are people in this world who refuse to change. (Yes, that was me being Captain Obvious.)

They know they’re stuck in ways of thinking and acting that don’t support their career or their life, but they say things like, “I’m too old to change” (which I’ve heard from people in their 40s), or “I don’t know how” (from perfectly intelligent people who have great capacity to learn), or some form of “I don’t want to rock the boat” (meaning, upset anyone).

What this boils down to is some form of fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of failing, fear of succeeding, and fear of … changing.

The unknown is hard for our brains to deal with

Certainty, even the certainty of a bad situation, is often easier to manage than the unknown Things that might happen if we were, for instance, to quit a job that’s making us miserable, stand up to the office bully, or say “yes” to an exciting (but risky) opportunity.

Failure is hard for people who need to be right

And most of us have been trained to believe that we have to Get Things Right. Let’s face it: from the time we’re toddlers, we’re taught that we have to have The Correct Answer, first by parents, then teachers, then professors, and then bosses. The potential for having the wrong answer, the potential that something new could turn out badly, can be like SuperGlue keeping us stuck.

Fear of success?

Yes. It was a bit of a psychological meme back in – what? the ’70s? ’80s? – and there were many who sneered at it as nonsense. It’s not nonsense; it’s the fear that success will mean overwhelm, because we’ll have to work even harder, take on more responsibility, be subject to more scrutiny and criticism.

And oh, yes, fear of changing

We’re committed to our sense of identity, who we are and what that means. An individual, or an entire team, department, or organization, will resist change with all their might if the change appears to threaten their sense of identity. We can, for instance, be committed to an identity of “healthy” even when faced with a serious medical diagnosis – one of the reasons why only one in seven of those with life-threatening medical issues make the lifestyle changes necessary to stay alive. (Not a typo: ONE in seven.)

What to do?

In a business setting, these are the types of people who can usually be understood, coached, and supported through the challenges of change with the tools and practices of change leadership.

In personal life, and in certain professional situations, there are some people who just won’t move from their resistance. There’s a point at which one must change the topic of conversation (in personal life), or decide to release someone to find another position elsewhere that, hopefully, will be a better fit.

The more sinister type

There is a more sinister type of change resistance, and I use “sinister” intentionally. These are the people who are convinced their way is the only way, that it’s the other person who must change, or who are, quite simply, happy with the way things are even though everyone around them is not. While fear is typically at the root of much bad behavior, in these people it’s a sincere and committed belief in their own authority and righteousness.

There are plenty of psychological labels that could be applied, but since I’m not a therapist or psychologist, I’ll refrain. Still, I’m sure you have encountered this type in your own life (you’re fortunate if you haven’t), so you know there’s no budging them from their position.

Just don’t make the mistake, personally or professionally, of hanging on to someone like this because of “what they’ve achieved” or “what they could achieve” for you or for the company.

Change leadership isn’t only for organizational change; it’s for individual personal and professional change as well. The tools apply to any change situation. Contact me and we’ll set a time to talk about how to make change successful for you!