The Surprising Gift of Resistance

The Surprising Gift of Resistance

“Why am I getting all this pushback on our new organizational change?”

Have you had to ask yourself this question? You’re not alone in doing so, unfortunately.

Because change work is hard! It upsets the status quo. It disrupts established relationships. It challenges secure identities.

It’s also hard because it asks people to accept something that has not yet been accomplished. They can’t see and experience it, and they’re unsure if it will end up being any better than the current situation.

And what’s worse is that even the people who have been complaining about the present state of things will often push back against the changes you are trying to introduce!


What’s up with this?


You’re facing resistance. And it’s very common in organizational change, no matter how much you plan, prepare, and communicate in advance.

One way to think about resistance is that it is a clash of energy. Energy to change meets energy to stay the same. Energy for one direction encounters energy to move in a different direction.

It can be recognized in questions like this:

  • Why do we need to change?
  • Is this change even needed?
  • Why do you want us to go there?
  • Can’t we keep doing things the way we already know how?


Resistance as a Gift


I invite you to welcome these questions. Sure, they can feel annoying, even discouraging. But they reveal a lot of really useful things about the people affected by the coming changes.

The gift of this resistance is that you get to learn more about what people value. About what matters to them. About their views on what changes are, and are not, needed. About which direction will be the most fruitful.

Respecting, rather than dismissing, the energy represented by this resistance, can be a very powerful addition to the work of change.

People will feel acknowledged. Their voices will be heard, and their ideas considered. Their experience will be respected.

If you are open to dialogue with them about why you see the need for change, and where you aim to move the organization, everyone will expand their appreciation for different perspectives.

And you might even be surprised by the outcomes. In the dialogue, people may develop greater insight into the drivers of change. The risks and costs of not making changes. The limited options that might be available for change. The trade-offs that you seek to balance as a leader.


Ways of Understanding Resistance


You can see that this pushback—the resistance—is more nuanced than it might first appear. People push back for different reasons. And they use a variety of forms of resistance, masking their underlying reasons for pushing back.

As a change leader, it’s important to develop an appreciation for the presence of resistance and the ability to distinguish between different types of resistance.

One of the most helpful and practical ways of distinguishing between different types of resistance has been developed by Rick Maurer. While holding that resistance is multi-faceted, he offers his Three Levels of Resistance framework as a useful way to begin making sense of what might be taking place:

  1. I don’t get it I don’t understand the reasons for the change. And I’m not clear on where we are going.
  2. I don’t like it I don’t agree with your reasons for making these changes. I don’t like how it is going to disrupt my comfortable rhythm. And I don’t like the place you are taking us.
  3. I don’t like you I disagree with the changes you are making, and I don’t like or trust you as a leader. I’ve been disappointed or let down in the past. And I don’t see anything here that gives me confidence that this time will be any different from the past.

Do you see the subtle distinctions between these three levels? Each will benefit from a tailored response. The call for more information at Level 1 will never satisfy the critical view of the Level 3 resistor. And the need to respond to Level 3 pushback by seeking to repair damaged relationships is more than the invitation to engage and become excited that Level 2 challengers are looking for.


Resistance and the Paradox of Change


The Paradox of Change states:

“A system must first fully accept where it is now before trying to become what it wants to be.”

This insight is really helpful for change leaders. When you experience pushback, you learn that not everyone sees and accepts where things are today. There are different perceptions about why things are as they are and about what changes will best deliver improvements and benefits.

Resistance and the opportunity for dialogue can help more people in your team and organizational system come to an acceptance of where you are now. And this can propel you forward—together with greater shared insight—towards the future you want to be in.

So I invite you, paradoxically, to welcome the presence of resistance and pushback! 

You will learn more about how people in your organization view things. And you will have the opportunity to engage them more deeply in the need for and  direction of necessary organizational change.


What’s Next?


Are you interested to learn more about Resistance?

I strongly recommend the resources that Rick Maurer has developed, explaining his Three Levels of Resistance framework. Read an overview of his framework and access additional resources on his website.

Are you curious about the different forms that Resistance takes as you move through a change process?

I developed the RCA Seasons of Growth framework as a guide for the phases of change in a team or organization. And I’ve noticed that the form of resistance shifts as the change progresses. Contact me to learn more about this.

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