Turning Change Resistance into Readiness: How Change Agents' Communication Shapes Recipient Reactions

Authors: Endrejat, P.C., Klonek, F., Müller-Frommeyer, L., & Kauffeld, S. (2020)

As employees’ support for an organizational change is critical for its success, change agents require guidelines on how to initiate change recipients’ endorsement. Accordingly, there is a need for an evidence-based understanding of which communication behaviors drive positive versus negative change reactions, as well as about the psychological mechanisms that explain effective communication. To advance our knowledge about successful change communication, we tested how autonomy-supportive communication, autonomy-restrictive communication, and reflective listening are associated with change recipients’ reactions. Building on Self-Determination Theory, we also tested the mediating mechanism of the satisfaction of recipients’ psychological needs between change agents’ actions and change recipients’ reactions. In three studies, we explored how change agents can use their communication to enhance recipients’ change readiness, as manifested in increased energy-saving intentions. In Study 1, we separately examined the effect of each communication behavior on change readiness. We coded dyadic change conversations for autonomy-supportive (vs. autonomy-restrictive) communication and reflective listening. Results showed that autonomy-restrictive communication negatively impacted recipients’ change readiness. Study 2 used an online experiment to distinguish between the effect of change agents’ autonomy-supportive and -restrictive communication. We found an indirect effect of change agents’ communication behaviors on recipients’ change readiness via psychological need fulfillment. In Study 3, we investigated how change agents “in the field” responded to recipients’ expressed resistance. Findings indicated that change agents use more autonomy-restrictive than -supportive communication, suggesting that their communication typically undermines rather than facilitates recipients’ change readiness.

Reactions to change; Resistance to change; Change readiness; Change management; Energy-saving; Self-determination theory; Motivational interviewing

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