Change is hard. We all experience the challenge of change, whether getting a preschooler (or high- school student, for that matter!) to put on their shoes or, in my work, helping clients improve efficiency. Resistance is the underlying factor that prevents change. As a management consulting firm, Resigility is often asked to help clients develop different ways of working. Here are a few keys to how we manage resistance to change, in the hopes that these ideas can inform similar scenarios you encounter.

Natural reaction

It is never an easy task to step into a client’s shoes, understand their business, identify the root cause of their problem and recommend solutions. Basically, you spend a few weeks assessing their environment and tell them what’s wrong with business operations or processes that have been in place for years. Add in the complication of when a client does not agree with your recommendations or rejects suggestions. The proposed solution may be considered too simple or too complex, or the client pushes back saying, “We’ve already tried that, and it didn’t work.” Whatever the case may be, it’s important to recognize resistance is a natural reaction—not an indictment of your competencies and capabilities.

Effective techniques

At Resigility, we believe in building trust and tailoring our approach to the client. As we say, “We are firm on principles, flexible on methodology.” By remaining agile, we adapt to meet each client’s needs.

Clifton W. Mitchell, Ph.D., author of “Effective Techniques for Dealing with Highly Resistant Clients,” substantiates why trust and adaptability are vital. “We tell our clients things like, ’You can’t change other people; you can only change yourself.’ Then we go into a session trying to change our clients. This is hypocritical,” he writes. “I teach, ’You can’t change your clients. You can only change how you interact with your clients and hope that change results. That’s all you get.’”

Trust issues

In consulting work, I appreciate that resistance frequently comes from trust issues with leadership. A client’s employees may think consultants deliver a project without understanding the day-to-day operational implications that they’ll need to address. Or the lack of trust up the chain makes employees question hiring consultants in the first place. In these situations, we must prove our worth by strategically dealing with trust issues using skills such as:

  • Clear communication: Listening emphatically with an open mindset to understand a client’s perspective and keep the communication lines flowing. Never make assumptions—especially negative ones—and remain curious to better understand the client and their team.
  • Focus on details: The adage, “the devil is in the details,” reinforces that we typically find the problem when we ask the right questions. My go-to strategy is the “5 Whys,” which I mastered during my time at McKinsey to obtain more information, gain a better understanding of the client’s business and find the root cause of resistance.
  • Problem-solving: Problems are often a giant network of small issues coming from many different sources. Addressing smaller issues is imperative to solving bigger problems.
  • Negotiation: Negotiation can clearly identify non-negotiables up front—for both clients and consultants—making it easier to understand boundaries in creating trust and aligning on the same page.

Food for thought

Mitchell notes, “Our job is to understand the client’s world to the degree that we see their behavior for what it is and not as resistance.” Author Leo Tolstoy contends, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” I hope this blog offers food for thought on dealing with resistance to change. Please feel free to connect through Resigility or LinkedIn to discuss how you’ve dealt with resistance to change, skills used to overcome it, and if we can help your organization build greater resiliency, agility and efficiency.

Arjita Singh, Senior Consultant, Resigility