Deadliest Bacteria 3: Change Phobia

Deadliest Bacteria 3: Change Phobia

change, homeless, hope,

“It’s just the way it’s always been done here.” She said, as she stared at him with cold eyes.

            “It appears to be costing you time, money, and energy.  Is this a practice you are willing to shift?”He was treading carefully.

            “I don’t know why we need to. It’s just what we do. Why are you even bringing this up? I don’t even know if I want to change it.”  She seemed indignant.

                        “You can certainly choose to continue the way you are hiring, but it may create a possible liability to your organization. It is certainly costing you time and money. Is this an issue we should be addressing with someone else? Is this an issue for a different department?” He spoke as calmly as possible in the face of the unflappable human resources manager.

            “No. This is my department, but I don’t have time to deal with this right now. I will get back to you later.” She voiced in a low growl.

                        “Alright, I look forward to brainstorming some ways we can tackle this the next time we sit down.” He replied.

                                    “If there is a next time.”

This is a conversation that can be overheard in organizations everywhere. This may even sound like a conversation you have had with a colleague, a boss, a friend, or a family member. As consultants, the team at Red Kite Project is often faced with decision makers, managers, or front line employees who are fearful or resistant to change. Even though the benefits of change may be painfully evident, people and organizations are often unwilling or unable to make a shift.  Fear of change may take many forms: the man on the street who sacrifices his life during his battle with drug addiction; the manager who refuses to shift her management style, and is decimating employee morale; the HR director who is in denial over the impact of their hiring process and continues to bring in low-performing or hostile employees; and the friend who stays in a toxic relationship even though it makes them miserable.  Change Phobia is as common as it is damaging, and that is why it has made our list of The Seven Deadliest Bacteria-like Infections Inhabiting Organizations. 



Change is a process that does not happen overnight.  It is something that all people have dealt with, and is the one constant in the human experience. Change, and adaptability to change, are necessary for individuals and organizations to survive and grow. However, many people fear change because it is not easy to shift habits, and facing the unknown can be a scary prospect. The average cultural change movement in an organization takes 7-10 years and can be derailed by a pocket of dissenters who are fearful of change. When change phobia is impacting the bottom line, destroying employee performance, or putting someone’s life at risk, we must be prepared to identify individual and organizational barriers to change and assist them in moving forward.

Change Phobia sounds like:

  1. “I can’t do it.”
  2. “There is no problem.”
  3. “Everything is fine on my end, everyone else is having a problem.”
  4. “I don’t have a gambling problem, I have a money problem.”
  5. “This (insert suggested positive behavior or plan as a replacement for old unproductive strategy) won’t ever work.”
  6. “It has nothing to do with me, the people I work with are no good.”
  7. “This is the way it has always been done.”
  8. “Well, this is just our corporate culture.”
  9. “There is nothing wrong with the old way.”
  10. Trying to change the subject to avoid the discussion.


While there are several models of behavioral change in existence, Red Kite Project utilizes the Trans-theoretical Model of the Stages of Change created by Prochaska and Diclemente. I mention this because, when you are undertaking such a tremendous endeavor as helping people and organizations make changes, it is important to use a model with a large body of research to back it up!  The following is a model that Red Kite Project has adapted and created for behavioral change and reducing change phobia.If you hear these statements, you may be dealing with someone who is struggling with change phobia. As an agent of change, I prefer to encounter someone who openly voices ambivalence or resistance around change.  It is much harder to assist movement, or to maneuver someone or a group of people who are silent and passive aggressive in their resistance. Try to think of open refusal of an idea or strategy as an opportunity.  Sometimes, the most vocal critics become the strongest supporters when they are able to find the benefit to change their beliefs or practices.

Applying the Stages of Change Model When Assisting Growth and Change.

When counseling direct reports, friends, family members for behavioral improvement, leaders/managers are often confronted with resistance to change. The resistance may be explicit in the discussion or it may be evident in the person’s obvious lack of change in the days and weeks that follow the discussion. This resistance is a common problem for leaders/managers/friends/family who report frustration with people who appear “stuck” in negative and unproductive behaviors. However, it can be solved by
applying the theoretical model “Stages of Change” (Prochaska & DiClemente), which is used to understand and create behavioral change in an individual will be an effective tool for those who want to assist others in their growth.


“Stages of Change” is a trans-theoretical model of behavioral change, which assesses an individual’s readiness to change negative and unhealthy behaviors to a new healthier behavior. This model ascribes to the belief that change is a process involving progress through a series of stages. When the manager, change agent or the individual who is attempting to change can assess where he/she is at in the process, specific interventions in that stage may be applied assuring a more successful outcome.


  1. Pre-contemplation–The individual doesn’t believe there is a problem to change, is in denial that his/her behaviors are negatively impacting himself and others. Pre-contemplators typically underestimate the pros of changing.
  2. Contemplation–The individual has ambivalence about change and doesn’t intend to change for at least six months. The individual may see that a change should be made (can see pros to changing), but is not confident that he/she is capable of taking the steps to do it.
  3. Preparation–The individual sees that the benefits (pros) to changing outweigh the cons. In this stage, the individual is planning to change within the next 30 days and is working on strategies for change as well as making an explicit commitment.
  4. Action–The individual has recently begun the steps to making change and is assessing new strategies for change and trying them out. In this stage, the individual is explicitly committing to change.
  5. Maintenance-The individual has changed his/her behavior in the last six months and must remain diligent to keep up the new behaviors. There is a tendency to relapse during stressful events.



PRECONTEMPLATION Interview Approaches

  1. Express concern about the person and his negative behavior. 2. State non-judgmentally that this is a problem for him and the department. 3. Give concrete observations of the behaviors and how they impact his work. 4. Agree to disagree about the severity of the problem. 5. Explore the employee’s perception of the problem. 6. Explore the pros and cons of maintaining the behavior. 7. Emphasize the importance of meeting with the employee again.

CONTEMPLATION Interview Approaches

  1. Elicit positive and negative aspects of behavior. 2. Ask about positive and negative aspects of past periods of positive behavioral change. For instance, “Was there ever a time when you did your work differently than you’re doing now? How did that work for you?” 3. Summarize the employee’s comments on his behaviors 4. Make explicit discrepancies between values and actions. For instance, if the employee is consistently sloppy with work assignments ask if this is contradictory to his value system? 5. Elicit self-motivational statements of intent and commitment from the employee.

PREPARATION Interview Approaches

  1. Acknowledge the significance of the decision to make a change. 2. Support self-efficacy
    3. Affirm the employee’s ability to successfully change. 4. Help the employee decide on appropriate, achievable action steps. 5. Explain that if the employee makes a mistake this should not disrupt the leader/follower relationship. 6. Remind employee that you are available for support and that you will be looking in on their work to support the improvements.

 Interview Approaches

  1. Be a source of encouragement and support 2. Acknowledge the uncomfortable aspects of change. 3. Reinforce the importance of continuing the positive behaviors.

MAINTENANCE Interview Approaches

  1. Anticipate difficulties as a means of relapse prevention. 2. Recognize the employee’s struggle 3. Support the employee’s resolve. 4. Reiterate that mistakes and relapses do not interrupt the leader/follower relationship rather they are an opportunity to reassess work productivity. Review long-term goals with the employee.

Change is a process, not an event. 

 Presented by Red Kite Project © 2012 Red Kite Project. All rights reserved.


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