Author(s), Title and Publication
Deline, M. B. (2019). Framing resistance: Identifying frames that guide resistance interpretations at work. Management Communication Quarterly, 33(1), 39-67. doi: 10.1177/0893318918793731

Almost 50%-70% of change initiatives fail. One major reason for the high failure rate is employees’ resistance to change. Researchers have often interpreted resistance to change as employee noncompliance with one-way change messages. Another view, adopted by the author of this study, is that resistance to change is co-constructed by all parties involved in the change. Therefore, this study focuses on the construction of social reality by examining both change implementers’ and employees’ conception of resistance. Two central questions the author addressed in this study are: (1) How do implementers and employees frame resistance? and (2) How do implementers’ and employees’ resistance frames, and their use, compare with each other? The author used an exploratory case study to answer these questions. She investigated a large educational enterprise in the Midwest which was implementing a turnkey sustainability program in 2013. Data were collected via 38 interviews with six implementers and 32 employees who were part of the change program.

The results revealed four frames that guide resistance interpretations: disagreeability, protecting role performance, conflicting stakes, and habitual environment. Disagreeability refers to not agreeing with others in an unpleasant manner. Implementers who used the disagreeability frame saw resistors as those who hold negative attitudes toward the program, whereas employees who used the disagreeability resistance frame tended to view resistors as inherently disagreeable people. In other words, employees had a fixed impression on resistors and their history of eliciting negative outcomes on the organizational environment. The protecting role performance resistance frame describes resistance as a threat to being a good implementer. Employees, however, interpreted resistance as an acceptable way to perform well in their regular jobs. Moreover, implementers did not share the conflicting stakes resistance frame with employees. Implementers interpreted this kind of resistance as originating from within implementers and the implementation team, such as disputes surrounding the interpretation of the change program and how the change program would fit into the organization. Finally, the habitual environment resistance frame was primarily adopted by employees instead of implementers. Employees who used this frame viewed resistance from their colleagues in terms of withdrawing from the change or even negative contributions to the change program.

Implications for Practice
Overall, change implementers and leaders can use these resistance frames to better plan for and counter these frames. They should be aware which types of resistance may be elicited from different implementation strategies. In general, organizations should (1) create change support groups so that change advocates can communicate with each other going through the same process, and (2) offer training to change implementers to better understand employees’ resistance.

Location of Article
This article is available online at: (abstract free, purchase full article)

Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
Follow on Twitter

Leave a Reply