As companies move into new ways of working, some people are very passionate about it while others pull back. This creates friction. There are tons of change management frameworks out there, but there is no framework that resolves the actual conflict. Facts and figures don’t work either, believe me, I’ve tried.
How do you work through resistance?
Deep Listening. Resistors are people who care deeply about the organization. Hear what they have to say.
Build a Relationship. Get to know each other personally.
Start with Acceptance. Instead of starting by laying out your differences, and then looking for common ground, start with agreement. Talk about what you agree on. Is the organization facing competitive threats? Are you losing customers? Are employees frustrated?
The Co-Active Generative Disagreement model suggests a shift:
Conventional Paradigm: Agreement -> Understanding -> Acceptance
Think about all the ways you’ve been taught to negotiate and resolve conflict. Usually, it’s about laying all the cards on the table and then looking for common ground. The problem is that it’s hard to find common ground because when you start with your differences, your mind creates a box around the problem. It’s really hard to think outside that box once it’s there.
The Conventional Paradigm also suggests that only when we agree will be understood and accept each other. Sometimes there is no agreement, and people go away feeling like they’re not understood or accepted.
Generative Disagreement: Acceptance -> Understanding -> Agreement/Disagreement
When we flip the paradigm on its head, we look for acceptance first. What is it that you both want? Then move into understanding, reflect their concerns back to them in your own words, without trying to dispute or resolve the issue. Once you have built a solid ground, agree/disagree with the intent to create new possibilities out of your differences. You can still be passionate about your views! This is not about creating a kumbaya conversation. It is about generative disagreement - generating something from our differences.
An Example. Suppose you are an Agile Coach and you face a person outside the team, let’s call him Phineas. Phineas has influence in the organization, manages a team of 20 people, and he thinks Agile is crap. Let’s run 2 hypothetical scenarios, one using the conventional model and one using the new model.
Scenario 1. In the first scenario, you might ask Phineas what he doesn’t like about Agile. He tells you that he doesn’t think people will get things done without deadlines, and if you let people set their own deadlines they won’t be aggressive enough. You argue that studies have shown that self-organizing teams are more productive than command and control teams. Phineas replies by saying that he agrees that might work at Google, but we don’t have those kinds of people, so that can’t work here. You ask him if he’d be willing to run an experiment and try it. He says ‘No way’, he’s not willing to risk his bonus or risk his career for this crazy Agile.
You conclude that Phineas just doesn’t get it and he’s not going to. You’re pretty stuck at this point. All you can do is find someone else to agree because Phineas isn’t going to move.
Scenario 2. In the second scenario, you talk to Phineas as a person, not an object to be moved out of your way. What does he want for his career? What does he want for the company? It turns out he’s afraid that the company can’t compete in the current market, and he’s afraid of the future. He wants to protect his team’s performance so that the world he controls is safe. You tell him that you also worry about the company’s future. You see startups taking down large companies like yours and you wonder if you are next. You've reached acceptance.
Next, you show that you understand what Phineas said. “It sounds like you are afraid for your future and that of the company. I hear you saying that you would like to help the company stay relevant.” Phineas confirms your understanding. Phineas then says “I thought that you just wanted to push your Agile Agenda, but I can see that you also fear the company’s demise. I guess we just have different solutions to the same problem.” You’ve reached understanding.
Now that you have agreement and understanding you can move freely around agreement and disagreement. Phineas might still feel that people are too lazy to work if they are not managed. But you can now discuss new ways of working that are more effective than what you have now. Or what to do about these lazy people. Can we test that hypothesis? Is it all people that are lazy or is it really just one that is making the whole team look bad? Or is it something else, lack of clear priority, that’s causing them to churn instead of getting work done? You can have a real discussion from this place.
How have you worked through resistance? Let us know!