Helping Others Overcome Fear Of The Unknown

“Change is not made without inconvenience, even from worse to better.” Richard Hooker

Several generations ago, during a turbulent desert war in the Middle East, a spy was captured and sentenced to death by a general of the Persian army. The general had adopted a strange and unusual custom in such cases. He permitted the condemned person to make a choice. The prisoner could either face the firing squad or pass through the Black Door.

As the moment of execution drew near, the general ordered the spy to be brought before him to receive the doomed man’s answer. “What shall it be? The firing squad or the Black Door?”

This was not an easy decision. The prisoner hesitated but soon made it known that he preferred the firing squad to the unknown horrors that lie behind the ominous and mysterious door. Not long after, a volley of shots announced that the prisoner’s wishes had been granted.

The general turned to his aide and said, “You see how it is. People prefer the known to the unknown. It is characteristic of people to be afraid of the undefined. Yet I gave him his choice.”

“What lies beyond the Black Door?” asked the aide.

“Freedom,” replied the general, “but I’ve known only a few people brave enough to take it.”

How true! People seem to almost automatically resist change and the unknown. And yet, if you’re going to lead others through change, YOU NEED TO UNDERSTAND WHAT KIND OF RESISTANCE YOU’RE DEALING WITH. It’s one of the things I teach in my program on “Mastering Change: Leaving Your Comfort Zone, Taking Risks, and Getting Results.” Call me at 952-492-3888 if you’d like to book the program.

=> 1. Perhaps the most common kind of resistance is FEAR.

People in this position spend an enormous amount of time and energy worrying about the upcoming changes. They’re afraid. They don’t know if they can succeed in a changed environment, and they don’t know who to believe.

If that’s what is going on with your people, you’ve got to give them lots and lots of communication. The unknown builds anxiety. So tell them all you can as often as you can … before, during, and after the change process.

=> 2. Other people’s resistance will show up as LOSS.

They identified with a certain task. They may have even excelled at that task, and then it was taken away. They are told that the company no longer wants them to do it the old way.

This can be a tremendous blow to the self-esteem. The employee may mistakenly assume that everything he did in the past was wrong, that he’s wasted his time, all for nothing.

Not at all. These people need reassurance. They need to be told that what they did in the past was good, maybe even great. Perhaps it was the very best way to do things. Unfortunately, the world changed, and to survive in that new world, different approaches are required.

=> 3. Still others will resist with ANGER.

They’ll complain more, and they’ll see only the dark side of change. They’ll take every opportunity to point out how bad things are and how terrible “they” are for pushing all this “change stuff.”

These people need restoration. They need to get back to reality. They need to be reminded that the company was formed for the satisfaction of the customer, not the convenience of the worker.

You don’t have to be harsh. You should listen to people’s complaints. But then you need to get them committed to the change by discussing the reasons for change and the benefits that will follow.

=> 4. Some employees respond to change with CONFUSION.

That’s the way their resistance shows up. They no longer know where they fit in the organization. So instead of working and being productive, they spend a lot of energy trying to figure out what to do.

These people need involvement. When employees participate in the shaping of change, resistance drops and commitment increases. As much as possible, make the change their change.

=> 5. Lastly, you’ll find some folks resist change through APATHY.

They respond to the change by losing interest in their jobs and no longer take any initiative. They do just enough to get by. In a sense, they’ve quit their jobs but show up anyway.

These people need reinforcement. Being creatures of habit, it is almost impossible for people to abandon the “old way” for the “new way” overnight. So reinforce every little move the employee makes in the right direction. Reinforce progress rather than wait for perfection.

Thirty years ago Alvin Toffler warned us of “future shock.” He said we would all be shocked by the amount and speed of change. Well, it’s here. Individuals, families, and organizations are up against the wall, looking for ways to deal with change. Start by breaking through the various forms of change resistance — as I’ve suggested — and walk through the Black Door — to freedom.

Action:  Rank order the five forms of resistance as to how common they are in your workplace: 1) Fear, 2) Loss, 3) Anger, 4) Confusion, and 5) Apathy. Rank them from “1” to “5,” with “1” being the most common form of resistance and “5” the least common.

Then ask your coworkers to make the same ranking. Compare rankings. And together, decide on two steps that could be taken to reduce some of the resistance.