The Neuroscience of Resistance

By Andre Golard and Robert Spencer.

Published by Change Management: An International Journal

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

1. Framework: Seventy percent of change initiatives fail. Why do people resist? Neuroscience shines a new light. 2. Description of practical application: A number of successful leaders illustrate practices that leverage an understanding of the brain to reduce resistance and improve change program results. 3. Outcomes: Many traditional prescriptions for change leaders, like creating a sense of urgency, are more likely to intensify resistance due to generating fear and stress. Sharing a vision created by the top team can also backfire. This is due to how we value gains and losses, and to leaders generating social evaluative threats. We value losses twice as much as equivalent gains. We also discount future gains two to one compared to immediate gains. Thus any potential gain needs to be perceived as four times better than what people stand to lose. Social evaluative threats—the perception of status threats—activate some of the same circuits as physical threats, with the same results. Targeting culture first triggers a response from our inflexible reptilian brain. Programs that start with supportive action that targets the cortex are more effective. For example, change strategies that increase productive capacity and reduce stress are more likely to make it possible to engage people and share information. Likewise, sequencing disruptive strategies to follow supportive ones reduces resistance and the likelihood of destructive emotional responses. All these and other implications are illustrated by numerous client experiences. 4. Implications: Change leaders need to better sequence supportive and disruptive activities to leverage brain functions. A new vision needs to be developed in a collaborative manner. Participants need to be nudged in the right direction rather than be forced to accept a fully formed vision from the top. Leaders need to be mindful of status threats, or risk triggering fear-derived resistance.

Keywords: Leadership, Brain, Neuroscience, Fear, Loss, Change, Vision, Communications, Supportive Change Strategies, Disruptive Change Strategies

Change Management: An International Journal, Volume 13, Issue 1, pp.15-23. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 498.280KB).

Dr. Andre Golard

Independent Consultant, Seattle, WA, USA

Dr. Golard is an independent consultant based in Seattle, WA. His specialty is to apply neuroscience insights to improve personal and organizational effectiveness. His focus is on decision making and related topics including thinking errors, and information flow in organizations. For this he draws on his research experience at the Center for Neurobiology and Behavior at Columbia University, at the University of Washington, and at Northwest Hospital in Seattle, as well as corporate and entrepreneurial experience. He earned a PhD in Biology from New York University, and an MBA from the University of Washington.

Robert Spencer

Principal, Change Consulting Associates, WA, USA

Robert has been architecting change programs for 30 years, and during his career, his clients have achieved over $1B in savings, typically with >30% increases in productivity and customer satisfaction. He lectures on this as an Adjunct Professor at Seattle University Albers School of Business & Economic and is writing a book, Change Made Simple. He has bachelor and master degrees from Portland State University.