Resistance Is!


iStock_000004140332SmallResistance happens.

Whether you want to take this change journey or not, if it is a big change, you will find yourself resisting.

Whether it was your idea or not, if it is a big change, you will find yourself resisting.

Whether you see this as a negative change, or as a positive one, if it is a big change, you will find yourself resisting. Ditto for those around you who are affected by the change.

And, sometimes our strongest resistance (often expressed as “I can’t…”, see below) arises with the changes that are most important to us.

The truth is, resistance happens. It is a part of the change journey.

We have talked about this a little bit in earlier posts; let’s dive into it deeper today.

While it can take many forms–from gossip to work slowdowns, from subterfuge to immobilization–at its root, resistance is the result of unwillingness and/or inability.

It is easy to understand resistance when you (and/or others) see the change as negative. But why do we resist changes that you initiate, that we think are good ideas…or even true imperatives? The answer is actually pretty simple. At some point we begin to resist because we find out what the cost of the change is really going to be. (The cost might be financial, but it is generally much more. It might include a cost in prestige, or in relationships that have anchored you for years, or time, or in having to let go of other things you want to do, etc.)

When I first began training in change many years ago, Daryl Conner provided important guidance that I still use today. “The cost of the status quo must be significantly greater than the cost of the transition, or you will start the change journey but will not complete it.” 

With this in mind, it is critical that as you prepare for your change, you not only look at the opportunities that it offers if you are successful. You also need to be very honest with yourself and others about the cost of making the transition…and the cost of not doing so!

Resistance’s other root cause is ability. You just may not have the skills or other resources that you discover you need if you are to be successful. Skill development may require training (if you need to do it yourself), or hiring others to perform the needed tasks. Either way, once again we are back to cost.

Finally, if you need other resources (whether that be equipment, or facilities, or software, or…), there will be a cost. Either you find, free up, or in some other way obtain those resources, or you redefine the change to something that is achievable with the resources that you do have.

There is one more important note about ability. Often you will hear, or you may even be the one saying, “I can’t…” Don’t take “I can’t” at face value! All too often, what it really means is, “I won’t.”  “I can’t” is about ability. “I won’t” is about willingness. When faced with a really difficult task, “I can’t do it.” may actually be offered as the rationale for not having the courage to do it. 

All too often, we see resistance as a sign of something going wrong. It isn’t. Resistance during major change is inevitable. Something is going wrong if you don’t see it, don’t feel it. Either the change is not really moving forward, or the resistance is playing out underground.

Surfacing resistance, and being clear about the willingness and/or ability causes that underlie it, will help you to continue to move the change forward. Ignoring it, or treating it as a distraction, will leave you short of achieving the change you have set our for yourself.

What is your experience with resistance?

Who Do You Listen To?


Businessman in lonelinessWhen it comes to change, there is rarely a shortage of opinions, insights, ideas and suggestions that others have to offer. Who do you listen to?

Some people surround themselves with those who are always very supportive. If they have any question, any uncertainty, they are quickly assured that they are on the right track.

This can work well when in familiar and/or stable territory. it keeps us from wandering off course, investing our time, energy, and other resources in something that will distract us from our purpose.

It serves us less well, however, when venturing into unknown waters. Even those who might see danger ahead, or are able to provide us with cautionary advice, hesitate to do so. The message we have conveyed–intentional or not–is “don’t rock the boat.”

Others take counsel in a circle of friends or co-workers whose values and experiences are very much aligned with their own. In this environment, the dialogue is often more open and candid. People will call it as they see it.

While this is a better approach to seeking advice during change, it still carries a high risk. If everyone around you is looking at the world through the same lens as you are, it is rare that they will see things in a significantly different way. Once again, in uncharted territory this can be dangerous.

Several years ago, Daryl Conner and Linda Hoopes of Conner Partners extensively researched personal resilience. (Linda continues this research today through her organization, Resilience Alliance.). They identified a series of characteristics that distinguish more and less highly resilient people. One of those characteristics is “flexible social.” People who score high in this characteristic are likely to go outside their familiar circle of advisers when facing unfamiliar circumstances. They want to bring additional frames of reference to bear, to gain insights and understanding that would otherwise be unavailable to them.

If you take this approach, you need to be open to challenge. You have to suspend your judgment, and to consider alternative perspectives. You also have to have trust in those you are listening to. If what they have to offer is going to do more than “go in one ear and out the other,” you need to believe that they have credibility regarding whatever the topic may be.

My own approach is, perhaps, a bit of a hybrid. I have a small circle of people whom I refer to as my “heart friends.” These are the friends that will be there for me no matter what, 24/7, 365 days a year, without hesitation or question. When facing change, I will often consult one or more of them, to seek their insights and counsel.

At the same time, I don’t hesitate to go outside my comfort zone, to seek out others who might be knowledgeable in ways that will help to inform me. When I founded an AIDS nonprofit in the mid-90s I established an advisory board that included not only people in various AIDS-related fields. There was a futurist, who could help us think through alternative futures for a world living with AIDS. We had an IT professional who could offer guidance on the use of online bulletin boards to build community. Other advisers included a Catholic college president, a systems theory expert, and a consulting psychologist. Each brought a unique frame of reference as to how we might change America’s response to AIDS.

At the end of the day, listen to yourself.

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma–which is living with the results of other people’s thinking.  Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

Steve Jobs

Who do you listen to when approaching change? Comments and discussion are welcomed.

All Change Is Different. All Change Is the Same.


glass-facesChange is an optical illusion. Each of us looks at it and sees it through a different lens. For one person, moving the office coffee pot is a major change; for another it is only a minor disruption, adapted to before the end of the day. For one person, starting a new job is an exciting–perhaps even appealing–challenge. For another, it is life’s worst nightmare.

Why is it that all change is different? And if that is the case, how can it be that all change is the same?

As I wrote in an earlier blog, I use Daryl Conner’s definition of change as “a disruption in expectations.” Let’s apply this to the example of starting a new job. Personally, I have held at least 18 different positions doing at least a dozen different types of work in 8 different industries. Clearly, for me, starting a new job is exciting. It gives me the opportunity to take all that I have learned and apply it in a new context; to face new challenges; to learn new things; to develop new skills; and to meet new people. And, as I look at my decision to leave jobs, it has been when I have accomplished what I set out to do, when I have moved from addressing the challenges for which I was hired to maintaining the status quo.

At the other end of the continuum is a man I met a few years ago. “Bill” went to work for an employer directly out of college. Decades later he retired from the same employer, in the same department as he started. Within two years, unable to adapt to retirement, he became a consultant. You guessed it; he consults to his former employer.

Clearly, for Bill and me, the act of starting a new job has very different meaning; it is a very different change.

If that is the case, how can all changes be the same?

What those of us who have immersed ourselves in the field of change have learned is this. While the nature of the disruptions to expectations may be countless, the patterns of human response are consistent and they are predictable.  It doesn’t matter whether the change is inconsequential or transformational. It doesn’t matter whether the change is perceived as positive or as negative. It doesn’t matter whether the change is at the deeply personal level, is a change at work, or is societal in nature. It doesn’t matter whether you are in Tampa, or Topeka, or Tokyo. All of these factors may affect the nature of the change, and even the outward reaction to it. What they do not affect is the predictability of the response patterns.

This deep understanding of change provides strong guidance on how to successfully navigate any change. Let me just highlight a few.

  1. Understand how difficult the change journey will be as seen through the eyes of those who have to travel it. is it a major or minor disruption? Do they perceive it is a positive or negative change? Does it require changes in behavior, or does it go deeper, requiring different ways of thinking as well? Understanding the difficulty will allow you to appropriately calibrate the response.
  2. Prepare for change. Learn the patterns. Know, for example, that even if the change is seen as positive, if it is a major change, the time will come when strong resistance will surface. (Just think of the journey from dating, to commitment, to marriage, to building and sustaining a long-term relationship.) If you understand that  then you will recognize that your doubts, your questioning, those very specific problems you encounter are not signs of something being wrong, but are a part of the inevitable cycle of change. With that understanding, you are able to respond differently.
  3. Knowing the patterns allows you to also prepare for–and thus execute–any specific change differently. Given that change is driven by a loss of control, for example, how, when, and to what degree are you able to return a sense of control for those who are being disrupted?

Underlying each of my Change Mentor posts is the application of this understanding. It guides how I approach each aspect of each disruptive change in my life. It doesn’t turn “change” into “unchange;” it is still disruptive. But knowing what to expect does lessen the level of disruption and provides clear guidance on shaping the path forward. It helps me never feel like a victim of change, even when it comes from the outside and I see it as negative.

Change is inevitable. Every change is different. Every change is the same.

Join the conversation… Share one of your biggest “Aha’s” or lessons learned about change. Do you think that there are underlying patterns in our response to change, regardless of the nature of the change? Add your comments below.


What’s Your Story? (Part 1)


books 2No, I am not referring to your “elevator speech.” Some major changes in our lives (for instance, beginning a new job) may require the elevator speech. Every major change we face warrants a story.

Virtually since the advent of oral communication, story-telling has been with us. It is a way of passing on our history, of sharing our experiences, and of vocalizing our dreams. Skilled story-tellers are able to arouse our deepest emotions, and to move us from intellectual curiosity to committed action. They bring stories to life.

So why do I believe that every big change in our life should have its own story?

The first reason has to do with attainment.

By definition, major change is tough; it carries with it a real chance of failure. While we may begin full of optimism, at some point, we start to understand the many challenges that stand between us and success.

Think about it. Whether it is a personal change or a global business transformation, if the change is perceived as positive, it begins with a honeymoon. But, honeymoons are not forever. Daryl Conner of Conner Partners, a strategy execution consulting firm, refers to this as the move from uninformed optimism  to informed pessimism. When pessimism takes over, it is much harder to remain focused, to stay committed; it is much more challenging to maintain the momentum.

If we have our story–and it is well constructed–we are better prepared for the inevitable shift to informed pessimism. Quoting Mahatma Gandhi,

If I keep on saying to myself that I cannot do a certain thing, it’s possible that I may end up by really becoming incapable of doing it. On the contrary, if I have the belief that I can do it, I shall surely acquire the capability to do it even if I may not have it at the beginning.

Implicit in Gandhi’s quote is the second reason I find stories so important when on the change journey. The change story (whether your own, your family’s, or your business’s) is not written to be told once and to sit on the shelf. You don’t “acquire the capability to do it” in one telling, or a dozen. Change stories are constructed, and then they are lived.

Several years ago I worked with a client who was preparing to retire. She had been a high-level executive in a nonprofit organization for many years. The thought of no longer coming into the office truly frightened her. She had formed a mental picture of herself as an unhappy old woman, angry at the world for taking away the meaning in her life.

In fact, together we crafted a very different story, and she moved into a very different retirement… one of both peace and purpose. And along the way, she lived her change story.

Next week I will be offering some guidelines on writing your change story. Subscribe to Change Mentor to receive my posts in your email.

Feel free to share a bit about your own change story and the role it played in your journey in the comments below.