If you’re a Star Trek fan the phrase “Resistance is Futile” means, ‘don’t bother resisting because we’ll overtake you.’ When it comes to Organizational Change, I’m using the phrase to mean that resistance is just not useful or productive. Let’s take a look at why we resist and how we can use our resistance to get better outcomes.
/ˈfyo͞odl,ˈfyo͞odīl/Learn to pronounce
incapable of producing any useful result; pointless.
Have you ever worked with someone who seems to object to every new idea, no matter what it is? I encountered someone last week who objected to high-performing teams as one where members like each other. I didn’t foresee this as a controversial idea. It got me thinking, why would someone object to something so innocuous? Am I communicating in a way that invites an argument? Do some people just want to be contrary? Experiments show that people easily go along with anything, but yet they also object to everything. What exactly is going on here?
Resistance as a learning style. Some people need to poke the box in order to learn. It seems like resistance, but it’s really their way of turning the information over in their minds, exploring its boundaries. They are trying to find places where the idea can be disproven. “I was on a high performing team and we didn’t like each other therefore the idea is false!” I invited them to examine whether that was truly a high-performing team.
People who learn through resistance are great people to engage with in debate. They are craving debate and they can’t open up until they have explored the boundaries. You might wish that they could just suspend their disbelief, but I’m sorry to say, they can’t. And remember, they are making sure you didn’t miss anything.
Resistance as protection. The resistors are the folks that are going to save your butt because they will find a hole in the solution that no one else sees. They care an awful lot to be willing to put themselves out there as a naysayer just to protect the team. So be kind to them.
They may also be trying to protect themselves. There is a cultural element in some companies where it seems ‘smart’ to be able to express all the reasons why things won’t work. To level up on this ‘smartness’, and even smarter thing to do is to figure out ways to overcome your own objection. Challenging these people by asking ‘what would need to be true in order to make it work?’ gets their brainpower thinking about solutions.
Resistance has an impact. The problem is that resistance impacts the learning and motivation of other people in the room. It can cast a negative pallor on the energy of a team. It can be counter-productive. “How you show up matters.”
Can you help a resistor express their concerns in a constructive way? I’ve heard resistors just give up and vow not to share anymore. NO! We don’t want that. We just want you to engage in a constructive way that doesn’t sound like a litany of complaints.
Brain Twist: I invite you to explore your resistance. What is driving it? What is it that you are resisting exactly? Write down a list of things that would need to be true for you to welcome the idea instead of resisting it. What did you learn from your list?