Don’t Avoid Resistance (Part 1)

Generally, we understand resistance as the action of opposing something that you disapprove or disagree with. If you make a short list of things you like, relish or love, I doubt the word resistance will show up on your list. Resistance isn’t something that most of us cherish or are drawn to – at least personally. True, some may enjoy observing resistance as a third party to it – which could be one explanation for boxing , wrestling, or where your favorite team is resisting the opposition – but few of us look for or enjoy resistance.

Why do we so often choose to avoid it?

We are taught to avoid it. As kids, we are taught to agree – or at least get along – with our teachers, our parents, other authority figures and other kids (or at least not make our disagreement or disapproval public), and while the purposes for these behaviors might not be completely about resistance (they may also be about respect among other things), most people seem to connect the lesson to avoiding resistance.

In fact, there is a common phrase that reinforces this teaching – “taking the path of least resistance.” We don’t want to be called names. Extensions of the “that’s what I was taught” reasoning are the thoughts that “I don’t want to rock the boat, or cause a scene.” If you avoid resistance the boat may stay stable, but if you do confront issues, propose potential changes or just not agree with someone you might be called names – like “rebel” or “troublemaker.”

We think resistance is a bad thing. If you think all mushrooms you see in the woods are poisonous, you’ll avoid them. Likewise, if your belief is that resistance is inherently negative, you’ll tend to avoid it.

Sometime we take resistance as personal attack. If someone resists our idea, we might take that resistance as a personal attack. Have you ever been told your idea was stupid or that your approach wouldn’t work? Even if the comment wasn’t a personal attack, it often leaves us feeling that way. Since most people don’t like to be attacked (even verbally), logically, you can avoid that feeling by avoiding the resistance.

We don’t know how to deal with it. If you have long avoided resistance, you might not know how to deal with it in a positive and constructive way. Resistance is like many other things, if you don’t have knowledge and the proper tools, you might shy away from it.

We think it will lead to conflict. For many people resistance and conflict are synonymous. And if you don’t like conflict and see it as the necessary outcome of voicing your resistance; you’ll likely avoid the resistance in the first place.

We think avoiding it is the easiest approach. Humans are basically lazy. Since most people consider “the path of least resistance” to be the equivalent of the “easiest path”, that is often the one selected. It only makes sense, after all, to avoid something we think is bad and that would be difficult to do something about anyway, right?

So is all of this avoiding such a bad thing? Generally, yes. Why? You know, resistance promotes growth. In the physical world without an opposing force (resistance) we couldn’t strengthen our muscles. In the interpersonal world, resistance is a sign of energy; energy that can be used in positive ways, but only if it is explored.

If no one disagrees with a new idea (offers some resistance) will a better idea be found? Without opposition (or resistance) how many new products would be created? Without some admission of problems (a sign of resistance) will teams or relationships ever be revitalized?

Ask yourself which of the excuses outlined above have you used in the past, and how would you benefit from overcoming your urge to avoid some resistance today? You know! The rationale for resistance is often quite straightforward as people justify their actions to themselves. If you want to overcome resistance to change, you may answer the following points.

No Change required!

Even if you offer me a new house with or without some consideration, I may not be very concerned to take what you offer if I am happy where I am now. People who have been in the same place for a long time are usually in this state. They do not need to change and will view any suggestion of change with distaste. In course of time, you might have become accustomed to the circumstances and a new set may disturb your routine life.

You are satisfied!

Needs are basic drivers of action. If needs are not perceived as being particularly threatened and the current situation is relatively comfortable (particularly in comparison with the proposed change) then you may say that you will be happier to stay where you are.

If people already have their needs met, then you will need to shake the carpet and provide some sort of threat to those needs.

You may care for your investment!

When you have invested a lot of time and energy in building up your position, both socially and organizationally, then any change may mean bad news. Social investment creates a person’s sense of identity. Organizational investment gives them control. Sliding down the ladder that you have so painstakingly climbed over the year is a long way from your shopping list.

Where people have invested heavily, you will either have to show them how to get to a similar position in the new organization or otherwise reduce the value of their investment (for example by moving the people over whom they have social influence).

You can not leave something in midway!

When you have committed to achieving a goal, either personal or emotional, then a part of your integrity and hence identity may be bound up in achieving the goal. When I have partly completed something, I am also affected by the need for completion, such that I will feel uncomfortable with stopping now.

When people are busy, you should find ways for them to complete the work in the shorter term, perhaps by nudging their goals so they have less to do to complete. If possible, you may have to turn their work towards something that will be useful for the new organization.

The results of the change may not be so beautiful!

Although you want to move, the final resting place of the change looks significantly worse for you than the current position. You may feel it is like jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire.

If you want people to voluntarily move, then it must be to somewhere better than they are now. You can create this in two ways: first by making the present position worse (though be careful with this!) and secondly by building a rosy vision to which people can then attach their dreams.

If the change is nothing to do with me, if the benefits are all for other people or the general organization, if I just do not buy the ‘vision’ as sold, then I will feel no pull and I will not buy into the change.

You may offer forth a brilliant vision, but do the people buy it? Make sure your communications are clear and couched in terms that people can understand and buy into. Make yo
ur visions inclusive, such that people really can and will buy the change.

The way to move about is not known or may appear to be difficult!

If I buy the vision, I may still not be able to know which way to jump. Some change projects sound wonderful, but people are left wondering what to do (even the managers). Grand plans need to be turned into tactical detail in which people can see and easily take the step forward.

Further, the final destination may be great, but the journey from here to there looks very uncomfortable. The anticipated pain of the transition is more immediate than the distant and hazy future, and I respond more to this than to any inspiring vision.

Make sure the transitional period between now and the final change does not appear so uncomfortable that people refuse to join you. In practice, it may not be that bad — what counts, though, is the perception of the people, so design the transition well and then communicate it well.

The persons who are suggesting for the change may not be trustworthy!

If your experience with the persons is not good previously, you may not likely to buy the vision of the future. If you are going on what I perceive as a perilous journey, then I will not trust you and will not join you. The integrity of leaders is a very important attribute. If you want people to follow you, then you must give them good reason to trust you.

Your determination not to change!

Even if people do not want to change, they may still have to do so, albeit truculently. Some people, how ever, have the wherewithal to refuse.

You may ignore the change!

One of the questions you may ask is ‘What happens if I do not go along with the change?’ If the negative implications for your non-compliance are negligible, then you may not happily join in.

This sort of situation occurs when the person in question is so valued by the organization that the idea of them leaving is unthinkable. This is often where difficult choices around change take place. What do you do with the laggards? If this problem is not addressed, then the people around them may take their lead and before long you have a silent revolution on your hands.

Another reason why a person can happily ignore the change is because they can stop it. People in senior positions often treat change as being a good thing — as long as it is for someone else. When faced with change themselves, they may do whatever it takes to scupper the change, for example by refusing to give needed access or other support.

This is a good test of the senior sponsor of change — which may need to be the most senior officer in the organization. Those who actively oppose the change must be dealt with — preferably kindly and in in an understanding way, but ultimately in a firm and final way.

When considering stakeholders who are opposing the change, do a deep analysis of their personality to give you better ability to manage their opposition and convert them to the cause of the change.

This analysis should help you to decide whether and how you might convert the person to the change cause or, if they are implacable opponents, how you might control or contain their opposition.

Since resistance to the changes plays a vital role in forming our personality and progress, we may go through its other aspects in the next posts. In the meanwhile, please do not avoid resistance – try to correct the things in your favor.

Be Happy – Don’t avoid resistance.