It isn’t the changes themselves that the people in these cases resist. It’s the losses and endings that they have experienced and the transition that they are resisting.

A large university reassigned one of its vice presidents to a far less important area than the one he had previously headed, and although no one called it a demotion, it was hard to see it as anything else. Everyone knew that he had been ineffective in his previous job, and his new job actually fit his talents far better, but he was deeply hurt by the move. Discussing the situation, we discovered that the man was less troubled by the fact of the move than by how he thought it would be perceived by his colleagues.

“I told the supervisors. It’s their job to tell their teams.” The supervisors are likely to be in transition themselves, and they may not even sufficiently understand the information to convey it accurately. Maybe they’re still in denial. Information is power, so they may not want to share it yet. Don’t assume that accurate information trickles down reliably.

There may be times when information must be withheld temporarily. The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) may require it, for example, or you may not be able to talk about a strategic move because competitors will learn of it. But most of the time information is withheld because leaders or managers are uncomfortable giving it. That discomfort often arises not from the anticipated long-term effects but simply from the short-term impact—the setting off of the “grieving” emotions discussed earlier.

Self-absorption. Anxious people become preoccupied with their own situations and lose their concern for fellow workers or customers. In a game of musical chairs, the only real questions are, “When is the music going to stop?” and “Will there be a chair left for me?” Larger issues of teamwork, good service, and high quality get lost. Inspirational pep talks on the values of teamwork, good service, and high quality don’t do much good when people are self-absorbed.