Resistance to Change and the role of the Coach

To you as a leader it’s Business Transformation. To people at the sharp end of the business it means Change. And many people don’t like the thought of forthcoming change – in fact they fear it, or put another way are change resistant. And many times when the change arrives they suffer a feeling of deep loss – like mourning. So what is the role of the Leadership Coach in a period of business transformation and change?

Discretionary Energy

During a period of change, people’s discretionary energy can be dissipated by negative and unproductive activities such as rumours, speculation and gossip. During the Reality part of the coaching conversation the role of the Coach is to raise the Coachee’s awareness of these distractions and the events that may trigger them. This is the first step towards recognising the ‘loss’ the Coachee may be feeling and helping them move forward with ‘Potentiality’.

From the FOFF (*) drill down discussion the Coach should now be able to diagnose where their Coachee is on the ‘Resistance <-> Compliance’ scale. The Coach uses their deep listening skills to ‘read between the lines’ of what is being said. Listen for phrases that indicate whether the Coachee is generally for/engaged/positive, sitting on the fence or against/disengaged/negative. Take a holistic reading of the Coachee – their demeanour, their body language and whether they use specific or generalised statements.

If they are a resistor – are they overt (loud influencer) or covert (organisational guerrilla)? Beware of the latter group. It is important to identify who is briefing against the change and ring-fence them to avoid the spread of ‘poisonous’ messages. If they are compliant – are they quietly confident (general introverted) or persuasively confident (a potential ambassador for change)?

Recognise the Losses

By using deep listening, the Coach should be able to recognise the loss(es) the Coachee fears most from the change:

Dis-engagement – the person is physically present but mentally absent. They may be in denial. Their energy is dissipated. Metaphors for this might include feeling rudderless or having the wind being taken out of their sails.

Dis-identification – the person is locked into the current stable state, everything they value about it and their personal ‘brand’ or reputation. They want to hold on to existing stakeholder relations, work colleagues, operating procedures and the things that make them ‘famous’ in their role. They fear the disruption of starting all over again. A metaphor for this would be going up a year at school with new teachers, new classmates and new subjects to study.

Dis-orientation – the person is lost and confused and may even be unsure of their own feelings towards the change. This state can lead to them ‘freezing up’ and needing strong direction, guidance or reassurance from their manager.

Dis-enchantment – the person can be destructive in this state as they express their anger towards the organisation and attempt to convert others to their point of view. They may be a source for ‘poison’ – misinformation, disinformation and rumours. Equally they can internalise their feelings and burn themselves up with negative speculation and rage.

There is more information on the Four D’s and strategies for helping people move out of these states in ‘Further Reading’ below.

The Coach uses their coaching skills to raise the Coachee’s awareness of any ‘loss’ they are fearing/feeling and create responsibility for facing and addressing it with support from their Coach/Manager. The use of metaphors can be very powerful in engaging your Coachee on a one-to-one basis. However, avoid using metaphor in group sessions or in written communication – it is primarily a personal communication tool.

Further reading:

(*) The FOFF model for drilling down with purposeful coaching questions is described in the Tools section of the Coaches Toolkit (subscribers only).

About the Four D’s

Checking the Temperature of Employee Response to Change’ July 2016 Blog article interview with Morten Mortenson.

Check the Techniques section of the Coaches Toolkit for ‘Coaching for Change Leadership’ (subscribers only).

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