Handling Resistance to Change When Societal and Workplace Logics Conflict

Namrata Malhotra, Charlene Zietsma, Timothy Morris, Michael Smets

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Changes in societal logics often leave firms’ policies and practices out of step. Yet when firms introduce a change that brings in a new societal logic, employees may resist, even though they personally value the change, because the incoming logic conflicts with existing organizational logics. How can change agents handle logic-based resistance to an organizational initiative that introduces a new logic? We studied elite law firms that introduced a new role into their traditional up-or-out career path in response to associates’ anonymously expressed desire for better work–life balance, which associates resisted because expressing family concerns was illegitimate within the firms. Change agents responded to three forms of resisters’ logic-based concerns—irreconcilability, ambiguity, and contradiction—with three tailored responses—redirecting, reinforcing, and reassuring—using contextually legitimate logic elements. Over time logic elements of each concern–response pair harmonized to enable individuals to enact their logics seamlessly and organizations to update the existing logic settlement to assimilate the societal change. We demonstrate that the way available logics are accessed and activated between pluralistic change agents and resisters can enable logic settlements to be updated in response to societal change. We draw insights about how logics do or do not constrain agency.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)475-520
Number of pages46
JournalAdministrative science quarterly
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Public Administration


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