Three Major Reactions to Change

There are a handful of communities where the three major reactions to change are front and center in my work these days, and probably a healthy reminder to us all of how normal these reactions are:

  1. React to the change

  2. React to the process

  3. React to the person


React to the change


The ideas presented do not jive/resonate with those impacted by the change. They don’t believe the change will work or are extremely cautious. If they have even a toe in the water, they tend to want more information and/or the opportunity to talk to another organization or person that has gone through the change and come out on the other side. Note, when viewing others that have gone through the change, it often comes with critiquing or coming up with reasons why what they have learned will not work in their organization/community. Special snowflakes avoid the heat.


React to the process


The way the change is communicated, the steps taken for the change, and/or, the timelines for the change are what people take exception to, and that can come back to try and stall the change, or rethink the change. Ultimately, people are starting to wonder if all the steps necessary to go through the change and come out on the other side, are worth the pain of getting there…especially when they are acting on faith that it is going to work in the end. “So, what difference will this make?” is a real question…give up what I know that I may acknowledge is imperfect to work on something I am told may be better but I have no proof it is going to work? And, “If I do agree this is worth it, is this the best way to get there?”


React to the person


If organizations are onboard with the change idea and process – or have been going along with it because leadership or funders have required it – the last ray of hope is to react to the person. The person(s) are too outspoken or too soft spoken; too old or too young; too professional or not professional enough; too serious or not serious enough; too involved in the day to day understanding of the work or too much of an outsider to understand the day to day work; too data driven or not data driven enough; too much swearing and real talk or not enough swearing and real talk; etc. The person may represent to those involved a great facilitator or a weak facilitator; a charismatic person or a boring person; an authentic person or a poser; a great communicator or a weak communicator; etc. The point is, by the time it gets to a reaction to the person, it is not about the substance of the change or even the process, but personification of the conflict of the change to the person.



The first reaction to any change, process or person is almost always emotional rather than logical - important to remember that. We can think that logic and evidence will win the day always. But the truth is, openness to experience and each person’s moral and values framework inform how they are going to react to the change process. We discuss these sorts of things at the Leadership Academy, and cover these types of experiences at the Learning Clinics. There are no easy answers, but probably best that you deepen your understanding of how people respond to change so that you can help people navigate through the change.


About Iain De Jong

Leader. Edutainer. Coach. Consultant. Professor. Researcher. Blogger. Do-gooder. Potty mouth. Positive disruptor. Relentless advocate for social justice. Comedian. Dad. Minimalist. Recovering musician. Canadian citizen. International jetsetter. Living life in jeans and a t-shirt. Trying really hard to end homelessness in developed countries around the world, expand harm reduction practices, make housing happen, and reform the justice system. Driven by change, fuelled by passion. Winner of a shit ton of prestigious awards, none of which matter unless change happens in how we think about vulnerability, marginality, and inclusion.

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