Avoidance – the easy option with hard outcomes

Managing Resistance The Terrace Initiative Change Leadership Series

Avoidance – the easy option with hard outcomes

In Part 5 of our series on Managing Resistance, Ellie Pietsch explores how effective change leaders manage a common form of resistance – avoidance.

Inspiring trust with your team is a key enabler in the success of your change initiative. Leading by example builds trust; your actions must reflect your words about the change so that your team can see you contributing to the outcomes you are championing.

You need to be visible and actively engaged, thereby constantly reaffirming your support for the change with your team. Ensure you are consistent in making decisions that sustain or endorse the change program, however challenging these might be to make. Employing constant reinforcement will help those who are resisting the change to visualise the change in action. It will become an integral part of the change team’s working life.

Previously in this managing resistance series we’ve considered managing resistance as silence, resistance as questioning, resistance as stonewalling and resistance as undermining. Today, let’s explore resistance as avoiding.


Remember the stonewaller, John? A few days into your change journey, you find some time to spend with John, and you answer his detailed questions. It appears that you have managed to address his concerns sufficiently and you are delighted to hear him confirm his dedication to the tasks you’ve allocated to him.

After a week you circle back to check his progress, only to find that John hasn’t started any of his assigned tasks.

John responds to your follow-up with any number of the following comments:
“I didn’t understand that task”… “I thought someone else was responsible for that”…
“I’ve been really busy”… “I didn’t get the information I needed to start that”… “I emailed and never got a response”… “I don’t have time”… “I checked with Jose, and he said not to worry about it.”

You think…

By you now are ready – putting it mildly – to address John very strongly. Why didn’t he say something earlier? Should you have reallocated tasks to give him capacity? Why on earth did he involve Jose, who isn’t even part of this project? You want to challenge him: “Waiting on an email or information is not an excuse – what steps did you take to get this information?”

John’s avoidance has delayed the project by over a week and hampered the change efforts significantly. Furthermore, you think to yourself: “What if another member of the team sees John deliberately stunting progress; that could spark a mutiny and doom our change initiative.”


It is particularly difficult to confront and address avoidant behaviour. John may have the aptitude for the tasks you’ve set him. Perhaps his role is directly aligned with the jobs he’s been asked to do. However, John’s attitude may be misaligned with your change plan. You need to ask some difficult questions:

  • Is John the best person to carry out these tasks?
  • Is John the best person to carry out these tasks?
  • Is the leap you’re asking him to make too great at this point in his journey to commitment?
  • Who else in your team could complete these tasks?
  • Is there a mentoring opportunity for John in coaching someone else to complete the tasks?



Managing resistance is critical to the success of your change journey. In these uncertain and volatile times, fear can drive instinctive response to change that canpresent as resistance and hamper your change efforts. Your role as a change leader is to anticipate, identify and respond to these instincts in an inclusive, constructive and proactive way. By making a concerted effort to understand and treat the sources of resistance and avoidant behaviours, the path to change becomes much easier to attain. When you are dealing with an avoidant personality type, you’ll need to understand this is a deeply ingrained coping pattern. Part of managing avoidant personality types effectively is by being assertive yet empathetic and continuously holding the individual accountable for their actions.

Tactics you can employ with individuals employing avoidant behaviour in the short term include:

  • Engage and listen!
  • Help them express thoughts or feelings associated with the change.
  • Address any language that relates to feeling embarrassed or “all or nothing” statements -watch for the use of statements including “never” or “always” in making generalisations.
  • Those with avoidant tendencies are commonly very self-critical and may expect rejection, so they may express fear of performance management or statements that indicate their performance is at risk.
  • If they continue to impact the progress of your change efforts, make a decision to either remove them from the project or, to nurture them through the change journey with real-time coaching and accountability.




More articles about Managing Resistance:

managing resistance change leadership series the terrace initiative

Introduction to Managing Resistance





When Silence is not Golden





managing resistance change leadership series the terrace initiative

Is there such a thing as too many questions?





Managing Resistance The Terrace Initiative Change Leadership Series

Stonewalling: Breaking through a defensive barrier






If you’d like to develop your change leadership skills or find out more about managing resistance to change in your team, please contact:
CORRIE SCHEEPERS – corrie@theterraceinitiative.com