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Hospital Leaders: Want Less Resistance? Change Your Expectations

True or False: People Resist Change

It’s such a commonly held “truth” that no one stops to ponder the merits of the idea. It might be a surprise to learn that resistance to change begins with you and your beliefs about it.

Whether you believe people will resist change, or you believe they will embrace it, you’re right! It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy that determines whether your teams will resist or embrace change.

Our Expectations Drive Our Actions

The truth is we see what we believe. It’s a pervasive inclination that cuts across any scenario, whether personal or professional. In a 2014 Psychology Today article We See What We Want To See (1), author Joseph T. Hallinan illustrates this point by referring to the findings of a study involving a group of radiologists examining a series of chest x-rays.

The researchers inserted a large picture of a gorilla into the x-rays and found that 83% of the radiologists completely missed it. (Astonishing but true!) The figure gives credence to the assertion that, while expectations make us see things we expect to see, they also make us not see things we don’t expect to see. Expectation is a powerful force.

Another prime example is research showing the importance of student/teacher dynamics. Students whom teachers think are destined for success because they are randomly labeled “high potential” turn out excelling in class.

Sadly, the opposite is also true. When teachers think students are “low potential,” or destined for failure, these students become less successful. How can this happen? Teachers relate to their students according to their expectations about them, which subsequently affects how the students see themselves and behave in accordance.

Parallels in the Hospital Setting

In reality, the same scenarios happen in hospitals across the nation. Leaders leading changes act according to their belief in their staff’s resistance to change. Leaders tend to:

  • Plan and plot ways to get around the resistance they anticipate, e.g.,
    overemphasizing the positive aspects of the change and underemphasizing any challenges.
  • View specific objections in a negative light. Instead of being curious about the details of the opposition, they become defensive and move into convincing mode.
  • Feel they have to have all the answers to every question about the change and will thus come up with solutions even if they haven’t been thought through.

If you tend to do any of the above, it will serve you well to recalibrate your approach. Whether intentional or not, these behaviors come across as manipulative and imposing. They create pushback and cynicism, which then reinforce your belief about resistance to change. This starts a downward spiral that leads to distrust and a lack of confidence in change efforts.

You have the power to prevent this spiral from ever starting by switching your mindset.

People Are Wired for Change

Change is in our DNA. People change all the time. The catch is that they do so when they want to change. Change is resisted when there is a perception of it being imposed.

The belief that people embrace change can be a hard one to swallow, considering we’ve convinced ourselves of the opposite for so long, so much so that we’ve all ended up acting out our parts in this story – leaders and followers alike.

Turning This Self-Fulfilling Prophecy Around

Experiment with the newfound belief that people are wired for change and mindfully behave accordingly. The next time you want to introduce a change, try the following approach:

  • Convey your genuine excitement about the change.
  • Present a balanced view of the proposed change. Discuss both the positive and challenging aspects.
  • Listen to your team with an inquisitive mind.
  • Invite objections. Working through them together empowers your team to take ownership of the change.

In summary, don’t present ideas that are already “baked.” Present the ingredients and then mix the batter and bake it together with your team. Involve them in the change process in a more profound and meaningful manner.

Changing the “Resistance Dance” Takes Time

New habits take time to set in. Your new approach may seem odd at first, so don’t get discouraged when the same resistant behaviors are acted out. Have patience for people to notice the change in your behavior and adjust accordingly.

Shifting your mindset from “people resist change” to “people are wired for and embrace change” may seem radical, BUT it is the key if you want highly engaged team members. Resistance is a dance – change your steps, and before you know it, you’ll be waltzing happily with your team members through your future change efforts.

Receive a guide that outlines four other common beliefs we have that create resistance.


1. Hallinan, J. We See What We Want to See, Psychology Today, April 30, 2014. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/kidding-ourselves/201404/we-see-what-we-want-see

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