The 5 Unhappy People You Must Convince to Change

When change is announced in an organization, no one is really happy. Not even the creator of it. They might feel proud for a few minutes, but they soon realize that the gap between the idea and the implantation is huge. And so is the workload!
We have found that there are five unhappy people when change is announced. As a leader, your job is to convince them to get on board. Here are strategies to handle each.

Scared People

It is natural to be scared of an organizational change. Change can mean new roles, new skills, new responsibilities, a new environment and/or new relationships. In fact, if you look at all the reactions to change, underlining them is fear. The strategy below, therefore, applies when leading most people during change.

Look for signs of Fear: Not committing to anything, taking sick days, emotional outbursts, attacking you and/or the leaders of change and/or expressing negativity about the change.
What they need from their Leader: An ear and reassurance.

Things to Do: People will have emotions, whether you talk about them or not. Talking about them gives a productive vehicle to reduce them. We recommend AIRing emotions:
1. Acknowledge— As a leader, in groups and one-on-one, it is critical to acknowledge that you understand this change is scary/hard/difficult/overwhelming/etc. Your acknowledgement of the reality lets employees know it is OK to talk about these challenges.

2. Inquire— Ask people how they feel about the changes. Doing this in private will allow you to speak more directly and openly. If you have a high level of trust with your people, you can discuss this in small staff meetings.

3. Respond – Tell your employees your point of view. Empathize with them. Reassure them. Share any details you have.
Apathetic People

Often, employees have learned from experience that if they avoid the change, it may never really happen. New initiatives come along, leaders come and go. So why bother? Below are some suggestions to handle this reaction.

Look for signs of Apathy: They say they don’t have the time, energy, or stamina for the change. They may not follow through or "forget" to complete assignments related to the change. They will ignore your requests, hoping the change will go away.

What They Need from Their Leader: Proof that it is a real change.

Things to do:

1. Start implementing the change. As you take action and involve employees, and they will know it is real.

2. Take a stand with employee(s). Let them know that if they do not participate, there will be consequences.

3. Have the employee(s) learn about the changes and report back to you or the team. One way to do this is to get them to interview you, your boss, and/or a peer and report back at the next staff meeting, making their case on why this change is happening. Discuss their presentation as a group.

4. Another option is to have an employee debate at your next staff meeting. One team builds the case on "Why This Change Will Happen." The second team builds the case "Why This Change Will Not Happen." The third group of employees judges who builds the best case. Follow the debate with an open discussion. It doesn’t matter who wins. What matters is the open discussion of the perceived issues by the team. Make sure to address the reasons why the change would not happen.

Overwhelmed People

Some employees respond to change by getting overwhelmed. Here are some thoughts on handling them.

Look for signs of Being Overwhelmed: They may say to you "I’m overwhelmed." They may come to you with questions, fears, and concerns. They may look exasperated, sigh a lot, be stressed out, or take a lot of sick days. You don’t have to address all of the issues yourself! Look for help; else you’ll soon be overwhelmed.

What They Need from Their Leader: A reality check, support and reassurance.

What to do:

1. Sit down with your employee(s) and record a list of all of their questions, fears, and concerns in writing. Ask them to rate each item based on the likelihood of it happening (very likely, somewhat likely, not likely) and submit the list to you.

2. Review the list. Meet with them to discuss it and correct any misinterpretations of reality. Let them know how you will help them through the changes. OR

3. Have an early adopter of the change join your next staff meeting to review a list of all of the overwhelmed employees’ questions, fears, and concerns. Have your employees come to you with any unanswered questions. OR

4. Give the list to another employee and have them do a reality check and/or make suggestions to address issues.
Wishful Thinkers

Some employees put on rose colored classes and think change will be a piece of cake. Here is how to handle them:

Look for signs of Wishful Thinking: They will say various versions of, "This is easy." Although this statement sounds like an employee who is supporting change, you shouldn’t take them on their word. Most change is not easy.

What they need from their Leader: Close observation.

Things to Do:
1. Have employee(s) list what will make this change easy to implement and what will make it hard. Invite the employee(s) to walk through the list with you.

2. Have your employees do this individually and send you their lists. Use a staff meeting to consolidate people’s lists and discuss.


Our 2001 global research of 907 professionals in 51 countries found that 81% of people worldwide said they say 'yes' to change but don't really mean it. These are the pretenders. They might have good intentions, and may just be overwhelmed with other priorities. Or even worse, they act positive with you and turn around and start bad mouthing the change as soon as you are out of sight.

Look for signs of Pretending: They act like the apathetic people – they don’t follow through. The main difference is that this is combined with acting like they are really supportive.

What they need from their leader: Follow-up and Confrontation

Things to Do:

1. Check-in with them regularly on their progress.

2. Ask what you can to help them succeed.

3. When you see a disconnect of their actions with their enthusiasm, confront them in this way:

a. Be Empathic – We are all human. Remember that most people are not out to get you. They are just struggling to make their way in a difficult time. So be nice!
b. Level with Them – Tell them in your own words how you notice that they said they are supportive but their behavior doesn’t match.
c. Listen – Hear what they have to say. They most likely will tell you the truth once you level with them
d. Take A Stand – If need be, due to their consistent pretending, tell them that you need them on your team and that if they can’t, there will be consequences.
We all know why these five people say no to change. They are happily heading down their current road, and then their leadership steers them toward a huge cliff of change. The challenge is to find the right words and methods to help them find a way to navigate the change ahead. And if you are lucky, you will use these steps to create five happy people. Or least five people willing to do the hard work of change.