Change Management: Five Fears of Change

When people feel stuck and frustrated, it is often their fear of change that is causing the problem. When that fear is too strong-as it is in the workplace today-people are afraid to change. That is because they are under great stress and feel out of control.

There are five major fears of change. I rank these according to what corporate communication coaching clients and nationwide audiences have told me.

Usually PEOPLE WHO FEAR CHANGE experience at least one (or more) of the following normal change fears.

1. Fear of the Unknown. Why do men or women fear committing to learning new communication skills at work or in a romantic relationship? Why does taking a new job seem SO scary? We are most at ease when we are completely familiar with our surroundings and sure of what the future holds for us. As a result, fear of the unknown, and staying in our comfort zones or boxes, can paralyze us.

2. Fear of Failure. Typical questions you might ask yourself are, What IF after I try it, it doesn’t work out and I look foolish? Won’t I be a laughingstock? Will I be perceived to a big, fat loser? People expect to get everything right the first time, instead of taking their time to work things out and getting them right at some time.

3. Fear of Commitment. This fear is why people don’t set firm goals or accomplish what they set out to do. They are afraid to focus on what they want out of life. The excuse they use is that they will be trapped. Instead, people should be honest with themselves and commit to a few simple and heartfelt goals-what they really dream of doing. The fear of commitment will try and cut you off at the knees just when you begin to move ahead quickly.

4. Fear of Disapproval. Some might call this the fear of rejection. Typical question: What if I commit myself to my goals and people disapprove or push me away?

Often when people make positive changes, their friends, family and business associates might resist the change, and say I liked you better the way you were. I call these changeback pressures.

Examples: You might move up the career ladder and get the cold shoulder from previous friends who feel jealous or threatened. Or you might stop drinking and a frustrated coworker might say I liked you better when you were drinking.

If you change, somebody will likely disapprove. Usually several people in your work or social network feel this way. You will learn very quickly who your false friends are and who is truly on the side of your self-esteem.

5. Fear of Success. When you achieve success, financially or otherwise, and you still don’t feel happy then the fear of success is doing its dirty tricks. Typical questions: If you’re successful, are people going to kiss up and tell you what you want to hear? Think you’re stuck-up? We are all incredibly afraid of appearing selfish and egotistical to others.

When people get through the changes and are feeling good, they sometimes feel guilty for feeling good. People often trace this guilt back to being taught that they are selfish and egotistical for getting positive results by being a change expert.


Dr. Dennis O’Grady is the founder of New Insights Communication. O’Grady’s interest in change has expanded beyond his office communications practice to include business consulting and nationwide public speaking appearances on such topics as team building, change management, anger control, stress management and communication skills. His clients include the U.S. Air Force, NASA, McDonald’s Corp., Ameritech, National City Mortgage, and the IRS.

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