Valuing and Recognizing Resistance

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Valuing resistance

The risk of voicing your concerns will only take place if your "resistance" is valued. Traditionally resistance was seen as negative and resistors were seen as "bad." Resistance was to be squelched so that progress could go on. What happened is that resistance went underground where it grew out of control. We now understand that most resistance is good in that it is trying to tell us something we need to know. Resistance always brings energy which it may be possible to mobilize to support the change. This will only happen, however, if the leaders of change are able to engage resistance. To engage resistance you must first be able to recognize it and then to acknowledge and engage it.

Recognizing Resistance:

As shown we all resist change and we all have our favorite ways of resisting change. Do you know what your favorite techniques of resistance are?

Suppose you are at the dinner table and you spouse or significant other says. "We need to talk." What do you do? Are you pleased and say, "It’s about time. I thought you would never get to it." Most likely anxiety arises as you can feel your stomach knotting up and you begin thinking, "How can I get out of it?" You might try one of several strategies of resistance. You could use avoidance. You start clearing dinner dishes, leave the table, and do not return. Or, diversion might work, so you change the subject. Suspecting that a fight is coming, you could try a counter offensive move and start an argument about a topic on which you are sure you could win. What ever you do in an effort at avoidance will be one of your ways of resisting. You may discover your favorite ways of resistance as you consider this situation.

Resistance usually appears in typical but not well recognized ways. When change is announced you may see signs of anger, irritation, and frustration. People may appear confused and not able to understand what is being asked. Quick criticism ranging from mild to intense will appear. There may be sabotage of the process. People may too easily agree with what they do not fully comprehend. There may be wholesale denial of any change. Malicious compliance may kill the process. Absenteeism may indicate resistance. All of these reactions may signal resistance.

One of the most common types of resistance occurs when a change is announced to a group and there is a call for questions. As the change leader you might ask, "What do you think?" Usually you hear a long, "loud" silence. No one has any thing to say. If you are the na´ve change agent then you think to yourself. "This is great. It is going to be easier that I thought." Silence often means strong resistance in a situation where no one feels safe enough to voice it. Unspoken resistance goes underground where it grows and becomes stronger.

How do you respond to resistance?

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