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How do you work with people who are against change?

Sometimes people just don’t want to change how they do things! How do you work with people who are negative and against any changes?

It’s a question we often get asked. The first thing to understand is that you won’t be able to force people to change their views if they resolutely won’t! However, knowing who you are dealing with, their levels of influence and who of them are actively supportive or receptive to change (even if they’re not ‘there’ yet), is a big first step to making change a reality.

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It’s rare for any company to work on a change programme and find that everyone is on board from the start.

There are 3 camps which people naturally fall into:

  • Advocates – these people are delighted, they’ve been talking about the need for change and are keen to have a platform where they can share their ideas on what the organisation needs to do. These people are great to have on your project team or to use when you want to study the current work or test your theories about what you are going to do.


  • Ambivalent – they aren’t against change and they don’t mind how they do their work at the moment. As long as the instructions are clear and they know what to do they will follow the process. This group are good to work with when you want to test your theories because they are often the real engine of your process; the Do’ers. The more involved they become, the more they will move from Ambivalent to Advocate in their behaviour.


  • Adversaries – they don’t want to change and see no reason for the change. They may voice their opinions loudly or they may quietly try and derail what you are trying to accomplish so it is important to know who these people are and plan a strategy for involving them in the change.

Always remember that it’s the people that matter and, as tempting as it might be to avoid the Adversaries, in 95% of projects which fail, the root cause of that failure is at the relationship level of the Gibb Model.

A good place to start is to understand that for an Adversary to consider that they will support a change, they need to acknowledge three things:

  • The place they are going to has to be better than where they are today
  • They have to be dissatisfied in some way with where they are today
  • And probably most importantly, the journey from where they are today to this new place, must be safe

Don’t underestimate that getting their input may take time and effort, however, it is very likely that they will have input that will be of real value to the project as a result of their different perspective.

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You can influence their attitude by:

  • Working with them and being clear about the strategic direction, increasing the clarity and attractiveness of the future state.
  • Allowing them to see the issues of the current situation. Let them be part of the data generation that shows why, if things stay the same, the world of the future will not be so great. Allow them to build their own dissatisfaction with the current state.
  • Building their confidence that the transformation you are taking them through is achievable. This can be done by explaining the process in small steps and allowing them to see that they and you have the capabilities to make the change.

Of course, you aren’t alone.

There is a high chance that other people in the organisation will also have come across this Adversary so it’s worth getting their input, finding out who does work successfully with them, and what they did to gain their trust.

Without doubt, at every level, the effort you put into turning your Adversary around will be worth it. Not only will your process change, or project run more smoothly when you have established a positive way of working with your Adversary, you will also feel a huge sense of reward and achievement.

After all, it’s easy to work with Advocates, anyone can do it!


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