Reducing Resistance to Change … How to Foster Buy-in

Kathleen Peterson Rants & Raves by Kathleen Peterson

(For this month’s Rant, Kathleen Peterson has asked PowerHouse Change Management expert, Hannah Karamanoogian to share some valuable insights.)

Let’s face it, change is hard. In the Contact Center it might mean dealing with a new staffing model, an updated phone system, or a revamped Quality program. Studies have shown that dealing with large-scale change can be as painful as the grief and loss of a loved one.[1] Not everyone is an immediate cheerleader during the change process and your organization’s initiative can be met with great resistance from the outset. We all know people within projects who visibly display resistance to change. These naysayers can often be heard whispering judgments around the water cooler in opposition to the “new plan.” Often, we chalk these people up as simply “not being team players” and move on despite the resistance.

It is critical to tackle this behavior head-on. Otherwise, we run the risk of bolstering a group of people ready to attack at the first sign of obstacles. How about taking a positive approach?

Think about embracing change-resistant employees rather than ignoring their opposition. These folks have the potential to become your strongest Change Champions! It is imperative to seek employee input, address concerns, and gain buy-in from the outset for any change initiative in your Contact Center. Here are some thoughts to keep in mind.

Relax … Ambivalence is Normal

The first thing to understand when beginning a change initiative is that resistance to change is absolutely normal. As humans, we are creatures of habit. Habit creates a sense of comfort and provides us with a sense of security. When habits are challenged our sense of security may appear jeopardized and, as is only natural, we resist. This resistance can come in the form of negative comments or justifications to remain in the same old status quo. It can be very damaging to your change initiative if opposition is not addressed quickly and thoughtfully.

Plan Proactively for Change

As you plan for any initiative, remember and anticipate that resistance will be present. Craft and communicate a Change Management Plan (e.g., vision, governance, resources, communication) to successfully navigate the journey and mitigate risks along the way. The plan goes a long way to address ambivalence before it becomes active resistance. It is also critical at the beginning phase to SLOW DOWN. Stop and think about how the change might impact others (e.g., “What’s in it for me?”) and how you plan to proactively address those impacts. This is vital to ensuring that your project begins in the right spirit and continues with success.

Listen and Empathize

It is tempting when met with resistance to justify or argue your stance by presenting business reasons and logic behind the change initiative. This approach only adds fuel to an already smoldering fire. It must be combined with other strategies. Rather than charge ahead, practice “reflective listening” to hear what the person is saying and better understand their perspective.

Reflective listening is stepping back to hear what another person is saying, working to truly understand their perspective, and validating that you understand their idea. It gives you the advantage of leveraging an employee’s personal purpose for making change. Once you understand personal motivating factors you can connect them to enterprise reasons for change. Tying the initiative in to whatever drives someone personally reduces fear and improves buy-in. This is what we call “empathic understanding.”

Empathic understanding involves looking and listening to the person’s entire frame of reference as a way to build trust. When you empathically understand a person’s resistance and motivators for change you are able to discuss change in a way that is meaningful to the person. Ultimately, this strengthens your ability to communicate effectively. The person will feel heard and in turn be more open to discussing something that may otherwise cause discomfort or fear.

Foster Open-ended Dialogue

Resistance to change is often based in fear. Open-ended dialogue reduces fear and motivates change. This allows you to create an opportunity for a change in mindset. If you highlight a problem in a meaningful way to a person they are more likely to want to be part of the solution. For example, you might discuss the importance of frontline schedule adherence as a “contribution” to the success of the entire Contact Center rather than simply create and implement a plan to monitor agent daily attendance.

Most people are not inspired by logic or data. Engaging in dialogue around the facts or logic of a plan will rarely have a lasting impact on changing behavior. It is more effective to spend the time to find what drives that person and motivates them to make decisions. Frame the conversation and your change initiative around what is meaningful to that person; this reinforces their beliefs in the process. If your initiative combines personal meaning with data, you are able to create purpose. Purpose fuels the fire that sparks great changes.

Encourage Involvement

An employee who is resistant to change can be either a flower or a weed. Like a weed, the more you ignore them the stronger they grow. Similarly, like a flower, the more you acknowledge and nurture them the more they thrive. Pull a resistant person in closer to your project; include them in the plan and assign them a role in the process. Staff that are involved are more likely to adopt the strategies you are setting forth and vocalize this to others. These folks will feel a stronger sense of responsibility for the successful outcome of the initiative. They will do more to promote your initiative on top of their own day-to-day responsibilities and spread the change management message throughout the enterprise.

Share Information

Sharing an announcement at the beginning of the project is a typical and requisite action within a change initiative. However, no further updates until the ribbon cutting ceremony may foster fear, confusion, and faulty assumptions. Regular updates, as specified within the Change Management Plan, allow a person to feel included, important, and in the loop. Additionally, updates give people appropriate language to use when discussing the change with others.

Information provides clarity. Clarity in turn clears up confusion. It helps people understand what to expect and what the future will look like given the new plan. When sharing information be sure the content is unambiguous and tangible (e.g., “The Contact Center will move to a new location in October” rather than “We are thinking of moving sometime this fall”). Speaking in tongues only causes further confusion and strengthens resistance to any change efforts. As well, overloading a person with information can be confusing, overwhelming, and impede progress. Chunking information into relevant (and bulleted) topics shows that the task is achievable. It also allows one to look back and see progress.


No one wants to be seen as an obstacle in the organization. It damages one’s career and emotional health. Avoid looking at resistant or judgmental people as a negative obstacle to overcome when initiating a change initiative. If you really want the buy-in of “resisters,” take time to hear their concerns, respect their fears, involve them in the process, and maintain an open dialogue of communication. Reflective listening, empathic understanding, and positive reinforcement always elicit more acceptance and understanding than does force

At PowerHouse, we employ a standardized and consistent Change Management Methodology that we summarize as Inclusion. Pro-active planning, a documented Change Management Plan, and ongoing communication combine to reduce obstacles along the way. When people are heard, included, and informed they are more likely to transform from an obstacle to your star Change Champion!

“If you wish to persuade me you must think my thoughts, feel my feelings, and speak my words.” Cicero


[1]Henderson-Loney, J., Tuckman and Tears: Developing Teams During Profound Organizational Change, 1996.