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Understanding & Overcoming Resistance to Change—James Conklin

June 20, 2012

Change is something that technical communicators face in their work on a regular basis. We rarely document old processes or technology. Often, we pulling together the final changes just before a product release. It is our responsibility to make change as easy as possible for our users, coworkers, and potential customers.

James Conklin addressed this issue in great depth with a case study from the Value-Added Project in the early 1990s. James wanted to find out what contributions technical communicators could make above and beyond writing.

In one of his early focus groups, a technical writer said, “But you know, at the end of the day, what I like to do, I like to write my little manual.” I don’t know if a technical writer with that mentality would survive in today’s economy. Technical communicators are much more than writers now. Above and beyond an understanding of grammar and technology, we must know design, single-sourcing, and project management.

James showed us that we tend to look at resistance through lens. We face stubborn hearts, stubborn minds, or stubborn behaviors. We resist change in an effort to protect ourselves. Some resist change because we fear the change will make us appear incompetent.

From his experience, James showed us that there are various reason for resistance, often not for the sake of resistance alone. People want to know how they will benefit from the change. There are often unspoken reasons for their commitment to outdated methods. There might be external pressures for them to stick with what they know. James challenged us by asking, “Were these people resisting change or were they trying to preserve existing value?”

When people don’t make changes or continue to make mistakes with a new process, we attribute their errors based on who they are. We might call them “lazy” or “stupid.” Yet, when we personally make mistakes we often attribute our own errors based on the situation. You’ll hear, “It wasn’t my fault” or “Well, I couldn’t because …”

James suggested that we take time for a conversation before making a change. We must determine if the resistors and proponents of a change are actually more aligned than they might realize. Management must create an environment where we can have these honest conversations and ask these deeper questions without a fear of being fired or punished in the work environment.

James’s session forced me to look at the way I have handled changes in the past. As a project leader, I have made the assumption that people are resistant to change for no reason. It is important that I examine all of the concerns and potential lost value in future projects.

One Comment leave one →
  1. June 20, 2012 3:32 pm

    Thanks, Jamie. I couldn’t attend that session at the Summit, and I was really sorry that I had to miss it.

    Often, people resist change simply because no one has told them why the change is good. As leaders we easily forget that others don’t see the rationale for change as clearly as we do.

    Having the conversation, as Dr. Conklin suggests, is absolutely vital.

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