Beyond resistance

Do people resist change? The consensus appears to be that they do.

Well, with all that consensus floating around, I guess resistance to change must be a Thing. It’s hard to argue with a million articles that all say the same things.

On the other hand…not everyone sees it that way.

As an organizational coach and sometime change agent, I’ve long been very interested in the ways people respond to proposed changes. I used to learn about and try various ways to overcome resistance. Here’s a workshop Lasse Koskela and I put together on the subject. We presented it at Agile 2008 and XP 2009. Around the same time, Dale Emery was working on ideas in the same realm. He called his approach Resistance as a Resource.

I’ve changed my thinking on the subject since then. I don’t think people resist change. I think they resist having “solutions” dumped onto them without their consent and without their seeing the value in it for themselves; if they don’t perceive the change to be in their own interest.

When I’m engaged as a change agent or coach, I can come in the door with a pocket full of magic beans and try to convince everyone to swallow one, or I can try and learn what sorts of things people would like to improve and then do my best to help them.

I used to enounter “resistance” in my coaching work. Then one day I decided to leave the magic beans in my pocket, unless someone asked me for one. Since that day, I have never encountered “resistance” from anyone.

I came to see the concept of “resistance to change” as an artifact of the mentality that these people ought to do what I want them to do, for their own good. Well, maybe that’s not what they ought to do, after all. Sometimes it’s useful to find out what the problem is before proposing a solution.

When our goal is to sell a branded Thing or convince people to do what we think they should do, they resist…and well they should.

When our goal is to help people solve their own problems and achieve their own goals, they don’t “resist” and there’s nothing to “overcome.”

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