How to Get Employees to Accept Change

By Dr. Mary Kay

Updated Over a Week Ago

Minute Read

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Have you ever presented a potentially unpopular idea to your team, and the reaction you received across the board was, “this will never work!”?

If you are like most of us, you forget your leadership skills and try to convince your team members immediately why the change is a good idea.

But instead of being reactive and attempting to sell your employees on the idea of liking the change, you must instead let them openly resist and vent until they repeat themselves.

Really? We want to hear their heartburn and complaints when we present a new idea. Yes! The key takeaway is:  We want to!

Here’s Why

Previously we discussed the learning curve as a tool for increasing employee follow-through. If you haven’t studied the learning curve yet, take a minute and review it by reading Why People Don’t Follow Through. What we want to do is become really proficient in using the learning curve steps to help us effectively communicate a change and for others to accept change.

Here’s an Idea!

Next time you encounter resistance to change, stop and say, “Yes, it is different. And how is that going to affect us?” You want people to openly storm and resist. And then, again, you must listen. As you do so, take the time to engage each team member; listen actively, and when they’re done, paraphrase what they’ve just told you.

For example, “So your concern is transportation, Sue,” or “You have child-care issues, Randy.” This shows your team members that you’re really hearing what they’re saying and shows that you’re trying to work with them, not against them.


Leaders encourage their team members to participate fully in the learning curve process and, in fact, jump right in and STORM along with them. This is real employee engagement.

Don’t Fix the Storm

Leaders listen to everything their employees say without trying to fix their problems or concerns. Once the STORM dies out—when people start repeating themselves—and the conversation turns toward the FORM mode, the facilitator of the conversation can ask questions such as: “What can we do to make this unpopular change work out?” and “What are we going to do the minute we leave this meeting?” Then finish the collective action plan with, “Let’s go do it! (PERFORM)”

The learning curve is a powerful tool to use when announcing a change to wary team members. It can also be used for a number of other tasks, including communicating unpopular decisions or relieving tensions between team members.


Ultimately, the learning curve allows you to structure any conversation so that the recipients of your message can process the change by:

  • Having a chance to react
  • Forming their own solutions
  • Performing the very thing you had in your head that needs to get done

Pulling Versus Pushing

Leaders who don’t allow team members to express their concerns are perceived as pushing their ideas onto someone else. When the push approach is used, the natural instinct of the receiver is to push back or resist. Resistance doesn’t go away – it needs to be channeled.

By asking people to openly talk about their resistance (dump their bucket), we are working with people in the manner in which their brain processes information, and as a result, learning takes place.

So, instead of pushing what we want, visualize pulling people through the learning curve toward the desired result. Guide them, so they don’t get stuck on any step of the learning curve process.

For example, what happens when people get stuck in Storm? Nothing productive, that’s for sure. Pulling the conversation provides an ideal situation for sharing good information, learning, and actively leading our team members in a productive direction.

Great Example

With the pull method, a manager will say, “Hey, some of you are going to have to work this weekend.” This may seem like a real blow to employees when they first hear it. Who wants to have to work on the weekend unexpectedly? But effective leaders know that by stating the unpopular decision first, he or they will be able to pull their people in a productive direction.

First, let them react; then solicit their opinions and ideas, and work together with them to come up with a solution. The push method, on the other hand, calls for the manager to tell the employees what they have to do without any discussion.

Here’s a big example of pushing that believe it or not, it isn’t that uncommon:  “If you don’t come in on Saturday,” the manager may state, “don’t bother coming in on Monday!”

When this is the attitude the manager presents to the team, its members will resent the pushing and will push right back. Even if they agree with the decision—mostly because they have to—they will rebel by becoming unproductive simply because they don’t like being told what to do.

Instead of forcing decisions or information on your team members, try using the pull process to get them to want to do things that need to be done.

You’ll know immediately whether or not a team member is on board; chances are, if they trust you, they will be. By allowing them to be a part of developing the solution, you’ll create a sense of commitment, and in the end, you will more likely see the results that you need.

Take the learning curve leadership tool you’ve just learned and put it to use in your very next conversation.

If you change only the way you interact with one or two of your employees to start or alter how you react to challenging questions in a staff meeting, you’ll see immediate results. Once you’ve implemented the learning curve, you have a great start toward resolving most of your “people problems.”

How Can You Get Your Team to Accept Change?

If you have ideas that you feel like sharing that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

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Dr. Mary Kay
Dr. Mary Kay
Dr. Mary Kay is a business leadership strategist, executive coach, trainer, author, and co-founder of the About Leaders community. She’s consulted with hundreds of companies and trained thousands of leaders. Her Ultimate Leader Success course helps managers become more confident, decisive leaders. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
  • Laura A. Hobson says:

    Resistance is often a reaction to change. With time and subtle influence, sometimes this resistance can be overcome.

  • Dr. Brenda says:

    “Resistance doesn’t go away – it needs to be channeled.”

    Should race be considered when resistance is evident? Does the race of the enforcer or the junior personnel play a role when there is resistance? If so, how significant?

  • Dr. Mary Kay Whitaker says:

    Hi Brenda – You asked, “Should race be considered when resistance is evident? “

    Thinking about race, age, gender, ethnicity, disabilities, or religion (many of the pieces that make us unique) does not apply to getting results with people.

    Effective leaders are color blind and are only interested in making sure resistance effectively occurs in order for people to own and buy-in to necessary solutions.

    I have encouraged resistance in people for over 25 years. Since we are all different, resistance comes in different forms. How we express ourselves when we encounter a change and initially resist an idea is unique to each individual and should never be associated with race or any other area that makes us who we are.

    Thanks for your interest in the article and question.

  • Sharon Greene says:

    Dr Whitaker,

    Resistance has the possibility of taking on a negative or positive nature. The nature of resistance stems from how the individual moves on from their initial response.

  • Hi Sharon – Yes, you make a good point on resistance having a negative or positive outcome. What I like about using the learning curve is it is up to the individual if they want to move toward a solution or stay stuck in storm. If they stay stuck in storm they will not be a match for the organization’s culture.

  • Noel Hodnett says:

    I have found that it is easier to change employees than it is to change mid and upper management. They are in my experience the major blocker to CHANGE. Is it fear? is it insecurity? is it the dinosaur syndrome? perhaps a collection of all of the above. I love the following quote from RFK “progress is a great word, but changes is it is motivator and changes has it’s enemies” how true

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