Image source: Flickr user bitsorf, under Creative Commons

It is a well-known fact that all people have inertia against, or a resistance towards change. Psychologists have suggested many reasons for this but the single most important consideration to people is that the risk of change is greater than the risk of staying as they are. This is because while current thoughts and feelings have been tried and simulated by history, a new practice requires one to venture into uncharted territories as there are no models for how the new practice might turn out. Even if we are not concerned about the probability of success, any criticisms of current practices are likely to be more muted than those levied on new practices, because the former have precedent cases to fall back on. The classic English expression “oh well mustn’t grumble” applies well here.

As much as people will loathe admitting it, their inertia to change has also been subconsciously driven by their fear of lack of competence, or sufficient knowledge, to make what might be a very significant change in their attitude to potential unfolding events. Ask yourself who wouldn’t want to be the pilot of a new and successful venture? But to go for the new venture and then expose one’s own incompetence is more embarrassing and even frightening than sticking with the status quo. To follow someone who takes the lead to change also means he is downgraded to the status of ‘follower’, so he will naturally want to stay as an opponent to the change, rather than demonstrate that he is a ‘follower’. It is also emotionally unappealing to forsake something they have a higher chance of success with because they are familiar with it, for something they have a lower chance of success with because it requires them to venture into uncharted territory.

So why are some people more open to change and others instinctively resistant to anything that significantly alters the status quo? The key is often in an individual’s basic attitude toward change. Some people will default to an unfavourable, negative attitude toward change that leads to resistance, while others have it within themselves to adopt a favourable positive attitude toward change that leads to openness. This is the classic ‘glass half full or glass half empty syndrome’.

Here we enter the world of so called cognitive biases — biases in how people take in, interpret and remember information can have a major effect on their attitudes toward change. For example, we tend to put all information into pre-set categories; thus, if new information is categorised in a certain way, then anything related to that information is automatically lumped into the same category.

Schematic processing is another cognitive shortcut that impacts attitudes on change. Basically the easy road to remembering information is by focusing less on detailed information and more on assumptions and previous conclusions. Schematic processing is why, for example, we resort to stereotypes and preconceptions when processing information.

The bottom line of these cognitive biases is that people don’t take all of the information available into consideration when developing their attitudes about that information; instead they rely on previous information and evaluations. Thus, a person who has seen a change initiative fail is going to remember that failure, and evaluate new change initiatives in the context of that failure. The antidote to such cognitive biases is information: the more information people have about new change initiatives, the less likely they are to use psychological antecedents to fill in the blanks. This need to impart facts without emotion is absolutely crucial when discussing the subject of leaving the EU. It is facts alone and only positive facts which can win this referendum. At all costs we must avoid emotion and negativity.

There’s also a social component to attitudes. Social support in the workplace, the home, peer pressure, being in the identity loop of the ‘in group’ or ‘out group’. Your ‘in-group’ may be influenced by for example the prime minister stating that staying in the EU is the most sensible stance to adopt. People in the ‘Conservative party‘ (their ‘in-group’) will then lean towards that recommendation. We also have to fight the fact that all the major parties at heart want to stay in, so to outward appearances the ‘in-group’ is the larger group, the one to aspire to.

Knowing and understanding how ‘groups’ process information is a first step for organisations hoping to persuade audiences to change an established point of view. They must override the cognitive biases that might lead to negative attitudes by providing as much detailed information about the change as possible. Don’t let the ‘group’ come to its own conclusions about what is happening and why, since those conclusions will almost certainly be coloured by their ‘in-group’ biases.

Understanding the role of emotions from social support is also important. Create a foundation and culture of full support for those wanting to embrace change but are scared — e.g. encourage collaborative efforts, knowledge sharing and the expression of empathy in the’Vote Leave’ campaign. Emotion is stronger than cognition in developing certain attitudes. Secure and well-supported members of the ’groups’ are less likely to resist your change initiatives.

One of the primary reasons that motivation, by itself, does not automatically lead to change, is that we fear the demands involved may be too costly in our own ‘resources’, in other words we may have to recognise our own role in the challenge of change of attitude we are having and then to actually do something about it. In addition, we worry about how other people will react when our usual patterns change, especially inside our own ‘in-group’, like expressing a contrasting opinion to our peers and fearing any adverse reactions. Finally, seeing their role in change can cause some painful reflection or regret about the past ‘errors’ and how much time we may have wasted in sticking to the status quo when we did.

But the ‘advantages’ of staying the same can be very costly especially with regards to staying linked to the EU. If we take just a few simple steps we can avail ourselves of the freedom and insights that dealing with resistance to change can afford us. Actually of course all of this applies equally in our everyday lives.

Change, even when we are aware that we have decisions that need to be confronted, sometimes seems so elusive. As a result, understanding as much as we can about our own hesitancy to both uncover resistances and act effectively to address those areas we need to change, is essential. This is especially so, when we might feel some responsibility for the welfare of others, a social conscience. Though motivation is an essential key to making progress towards our desired goal, we must be fully aware that to convince people to change, they must also gain certain knowledge about themselves and act on it if they wish to advance. Or, in a nutshell: Motivation or positive thinking is good, but it is obviously not enough, people need facts as well.

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