Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Using Resistance as a Positive Force for Change

In his chapter on resistance in Flawless Consulting, Peter Block makes the point that people often use the phrase "overcoming resistance," which implies that convincing or persuading people will win them over. This doesn't usually work.

If your point of view wasn't persuasive to begin with, repeating it will probably only make others dig their heels in deeper. They may feel threatened in some way (which to them is legitimate), or trying to maintain what's important to them (which to them is legitimate). They may feel some concern about their credibility, their job security, their sense of autonomy, their competence. They may also see a lack of congruence between the proposed change and some core values.

Someone who defends the status quo can actually be valuable to you. In your zeal for change you may be missing something they represent that could help you avoid problems. And they may represent others who don't support the change but aren't so open about their reluctance -- whatever they're concerned about is an important issue for you to address. Most important, because defenders have the courage and strength to challenge you openly, you want them on your side, and it isn't necessary to fight for what you believe to make that happen.

Think of the futility of standing in a flooding river to stop the flow. When the "flow" of someone's energy is directed against your efforts, trying to convince them to head in a different direction can be equally futile. An effective way to deal with a flooding river is to divert the water using its own energy -- by digging a channel, for example.

In his classic article, "A Positive Approach to Resistance," H.B. Karp suggests surfacing, honoring, and exploring the resistance by making its expression as safe as possible and asking for all of it, at the same time listening, acknowledging, reinforcing the notion that resistance is permissible, even valuable, and probing for alternatives. 

Karp's article reminds us "the objective is not to eliminate all resistance," but instead to "work with and reduce needless resistance" and, once the conversation is workable, to "thank the resister and move on. It is important not to try to persuade the resister to like the demand. It is enough that the resister is willing to agree to it."

For more ideas, go to my blog post, Moving From Problems to Solutions.

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