Resistance to change can be very frustrating for leaders. It happens up and down hierarchies, across functions and between individuals. Individual and team coaching clients often want to work on these issues with me. How can I get someone to shift? How can we get this change moving faster?
Here are my thoughts on resistance. They are influenced by many experiences and teachers. In particular, I want to credit the wonderful Rick Maurer for his generous expertise on this topic.
1 See resistance as delicious
Leaders needs to shift their mindset about resistance. Instead of finding it inconvenient and frustrating, leaders need to expect resistance. As long as the sun rises, there will be resistance. Expect it and learn to love it.
2 Resistance is just people taking care of themselves
In order to appreciate and get curious about resistance, it helps if we can reframe it not as obstinacy but as a person or a group finding ways to keep safe. As one of my teachers reminded me recently, the first word a child learns is ‘no’. We shouldn’t really want to work with people who couldn’t resist us, just like we wouldn’t want to drive a car without brakes.
3 There are different types of resistance
Resistance has many forms. It helps to get curious about what you are experiencing from your stakeholder:
- Passive Resistance – saying yes but meaning no
- Avoidance – procrastination, ignoring or moving away
- Dominance – seeking to counter-attack or control.
4 Resistance has many causes
Getting really curious about why someone is resisting is essential. Rick Maurer describes three broad reasons for resisting:
- I don’t get it!
- I don’t like it!
- I don’t like you!
If you know the reasons for resistance you can start to work on how to overcome it. If you make assumptions, you might make things worse. For example don’t try educating someone about the benefits of your initiative if the reason for resistance is that they don’t trust you in the first place.
5 Know where you want people to get to
Rick has a great tool called The Energy Bar which helps you strategise about resistance. You can see it here www.rickmaurer.com/the-energy-bar. It helps you grade your stakeholder on a scale that includes Opposing, Grumbling, Indifferent, Interested, Willing and Ally. You may not need to get someone all the way to ‘Ally’ for your initiative to succeed. And what’s most important is that you assess where you are starting from before you plan your tactics.
6 There are many ways to overcome resistance
I bit like The Bear Hunt, if you can’t go through it you could go round it, over it or under it. There are many ways to go around resistance if you are canny. But if you really need to work through it, in relationship – human to human – then I’m afraid there are few shortcuts for:
- Being curious about the other’s context, pressures, differences and needs
- Building trust and demonstrating positive intent/values
- Seeking to understand as well as be understood
- Getting into dialogue.
7 Overcoming resistance in others brings you face-to-face with yourself
If you are struggling to get an initiative off the ground due to resistance, there is nearly always something that you or your team need to learn about yourselves. If you already had the tool, you’d have used it. The resistance of others can bring us face-to-face with a need to increase our range as leaders. Perhaps we don’t have it in our range to sit back and reflect so that we can work out the underlying reasons for resistance. Perhaps we don’t have it in our range to seek or hear uncomfortable truths. Perhaps we don’t have it in our range to walk in the shoes of another function, or to confidently make our voice heard? Working on ourselves is often the key to overcoming resistance in others.