Social Barriers to Change

Zaltman and Duncan identified five types of social barriers that can create resistance to change. These types of barriers are:

            Group Solidarity

            Rejection of Outsiders

            Conformity to Norms

            Conflict

            Group Introspection

Group Solidarity

Sometimes resistance to change is rooted in concerns for how it will affect others in a group. Group Solidarity is a barrier to change that involves resistance to a change initiative out of concern for how it will affect the greater group of an organization. This type of resistance may be based on good intentions and concern for the group, but this concern and hesitation to rock the apple cart may lead to missing out on opportunities to improve an organization. An example by Ellsworth (2000) is of a department chair that resists implementing a new curriculum approach for teaching technology to pre-service teachers because she is concerned about the impact that it will have on her faculty.

While it is hard not to be concerned how a change initiative will impact others (and a smart change agent will be concerned) this should not lead to resisting change out of concern about possible impact. It is recommended that a change agent that encounters this type of resistance identify all the groups impacted by the proposed change and address their concerns with specific support that attends to their needs. By knowing the change clients concerns, resistance can be reduced by addressing concerns throughout the process.

Rejection of Outsiders

Rejection of outsiders is something that occurs in many tight-knit organizations or groups. This barrier is created by the belief that no one outside of the group could possibly understand what they do on a day-by-day basis and therefore any change that comes from an outsider has little to no value for improving the groups situation. Ellsworth (2000) points out that this is related to Cultural Ethnocentrism but instead of one group being viewed as superior it is instead viewed as being uninformed by not actively being involved with the other group.

As with Cultural Ethnocentrism, it is advised that a change agent keep the change clients involved throughout the process in order to have a better understanding of their needs as well as receive feedback and input throughout the process that may help ease the client’s transition towards the change.

Conformity to Norms
Conforming to norms is part of what makes a group of people a group. Certain rules and practices are established and to be in the group a person has to follow and go along with these established norms. Failure to do so may result in a group member becoming an outsider and loosing the support and solidarity of the group. So rather than adopt to a change that may be beneficial to an organization, group members may chose to stay with the familiarity of the norms of their group.
This type of resistance to change may be hard to overcome, as feelings of wanting to belong within the group may be stronger than the desire to adopt a change that may upset the group.  In attempting to resolve this barrier, Zaltman and Duncan proposed that “the critical question for a change agent to ask is, ‘Why do people participate in this norm?’ Knowing the answer to this question may enable a change agent to modify his change to meet the need satisfied by the norm” (1977, p. 74). By understanding why a group has taken a specific stance, a change agent may be better equipped to modify his or her approach in a way that courts a group by catering to its norms instead of contesting them.

Conflict

While most of the barriers previously listed dealt with group dynamics and inter-group politics, outright conflict between groups is also a social barrier to change. Perhaps the most obvious to observe and diagnose, conflicts between parties can stymie and derail the change process. Based on differences in philosophy, culture, and belief, plain old conflicts can one of the most difficult barriers to resolve simply due to not only the animosity between the change agent and client but also the conflict between client factions on opposite sides of the change initiative.

As with most types of conflict, it would be advised that the change agent take a neutral position between any rival factions and try to bring the factions together to reach a common ground involving the change initiative. By addressing the concerns of all parties a change agent may be able to, if only partially, resolve any issues that are prohibiting the smooth adoption of the proposed change.

Group Introspection

In any group setting it is possible to lose perspective of a situation when nothing appears to be wrong or needing change. Being on the inside of such a group can lead to a lack of perception when it comes to seeing a need for change. Group Introspection, according to Ellsworth can best be summed up “with the metaphor of not being able to ‘see the forest for the trees’” (2000, p. 173). When a group does something for so long one way and does not see any problems, it may be hard to reach them when the opportunity to implement a better system presents itself
In dealing with this particular barrier to change, the change agent must actively involve both insiders and outsiders in the change movement. Outsiders will help to bring fresh ideas and views to the change initiative, while insiders may help to spread the message to other insiders that the change is indeed worthwhile and needed. The insiders help to wake up the collective group to the reality that a change may be needed and the benefits are worth the change
 
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