Celebrating resistance


A number of years ago I worked in a start-up environment that was full of rich discussion, lively debate and more than the odd disagreement. While tiring, it was exciting because the individuals involved were fully engaged with what was going on and cared enough to weigh in on decisions.

Then it went quiet.

All of a sudden there was no discussion. When presenting on topics that usually ignited a lively response there was quiet consensus around the table and we moved to the next item. Again, no discussion and quiet agreement. Was this because we had reached a point where our culture had come together and things were running smoothly? No, it was because they had all begun to disengage and think about 'life after'. Plans to get out were afoot and the resistance to change disappeared. They no longer cared. They were already somewhere else.

Resistance is most often viewed as a deliberate attempt to derail a change program and to undermine the ideas or agendas of others. While this is sometimes the case, it can also mean that your people care enough about what is happening to weigh in on decisions and put forward their views. We have all experienced individuals who are motivated to prevent change purely out of self interest. But there is another type of resistor, one that feels strongly about an organisation's success and their part in its future; one that knows and loves their craft so much that they simply cannot sit quietly in agreement when they feel a particular change is not in everyone's best interest.

We spend a lot of time managing change. In doing so we often assume that the change process is predictable; that people's response to change will be fairly easy to anticipate and that the way in which we respond to these behaviours will keep things on track in accordance with our original change plan. Clinical psychologists, management consultants and social scientists have proposed a range of models and frameworks that attempt to understand, and help manage the dynamics of change, however many of these models create very little room for co-creation, seeking expediency above impact and viewing all forms of resistance as something that needs to be overcome or removed rather than considered and valued.

While you will never have everyone in agreement (and should never strive to), acquiescence is rarely an indicator of a successful, sustainable change program. So as change managers we need to stop being ... change managers (?) and start co-creating; to stop telling and start having conversations; to stop managing and start experiencing. To stop resisting and start celebrating resistance.

Originally published: 2016

Image: Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash