Resistance to change is linked to two different types of anxieties: survival anxiety and learning anxiety.
Often it is the survival anxiety that is most visible to people. It is the result of disconfirming information becoming acceptable. Whenever it implies that either some important goal or some important value is compromised, survival anxiety will result.
However, that in itself will not trigger change. What is also needed is the ability to see how to act upon it. That is where learning anxiety, as Edgar H. Schein calls it, comes into play.
Change is disrupting. It requires to shift something in one’s behavior, in one’s skills, in one’s thinking, or in one’s goals. It thus implies that something we are used to, may not be useful anymore. It also means that we will not be able to stay as we are.
Consequently, some fears can be touched upon. Status or power may not remain the same. There will be a period of transition confronting us with incompetency. If so there is a fear that others will accept it or punish us for being less effective or productive than before. Shifting thinking for example also may have an impact on our personal identity, making it hard to know if one can stay a member of the group and possibly touching something important we can’t let go of.
They all are valid reasons for an individual to decide not to want the upcoming change. Learning anxiety links with the individual’s experience. In contrast to this, survival anxiety is mainly linked to the organization and seen as within its responsibility.
This helps to see, why people often will stress survival anxiety and seek to raise fears related to it: It’s easier.
Doing so comes with the assumption that survival anxiety is the same for all and that everyone who is a member of the organization necessarily will want to engage in it. It’s the assumption that everyone sees the same and wants the same.
But this isn’t the case.
What it doesn’t consider, is that learning anxiety will be different for everyone.
Missing this detail makes it more probable to create different types of resistance which in turn establishes a network of tension with survival anxiety. Resistance will then for example happen through denial of the data, of by finding ways through scapegoating, dodging to push the problem to other areas of the organization. And if the learning can’t be prevented, it is bargaining and maneuvering that may appear to receive special recognition for any effort undertaken.
To make change more probable, it is thus learning anxiety that needs to be addressed and reduced. By making the change more accessible to individuals, they’ll find it easier to want the change. Once this is achieved, they’ll find it easier to deal with their learning anxiety. Whereas raising survival anxiety will only make the leap step into learning more daunting.