One more time: Resistance is a good thing!
published by , on 31/05/2009

This week’s post is a small reminder of something I blogged about before: THANK GOD FOR RESISTANCE! In physics, resistance refers to the force that opposes motion. Next to that, the resistance of a material against an external influence, the resistance of a human body against a disease, and even the resistance in the Second World War are uses of the term that describe quality, health and guts; three terms that I would label as positive. 

Resistance means:
– People care about the stuff;
– People are brave enough to tell you they disagree;
– People have a backbone and guts;
– People are being authenthic.

The below graph paints the picture the way I see it. 


Some additional notes:

1. The dimensions: INTENT versus BEHAVIOR
The vertical axis describes the intention we have inside of us and horizontal axis describes the behavior that we demonstrate on the outside.

2. The four quadrants

  • Commitment: what happens when your intention is willing and your behavior follows your intentions. Let’s say this is an authentic ‘yes’;
  • Resistance: what happens when your intention is unwilling and when it is in resonance with your behavior. In his book on Flawless Consulting, Peter Block lists some common types of resistance that are abundant during the lifecycle of an organizational change, they are: Need more detail, Giving a lot of detail, Not enough time, Impracticality, Confusion, Silence, Moralizing and Press for solutions. These behaviors demonstrate a ‘no’, but an authentic ‘no’.
  • The Stockholm Syndrome: The Stockholm Syndrome describes the behavior of hostages who become sympathetic to their hostage-takers. The name derives from a 1973 hostage incident in Stockholm, when several victims began to identify with their hostage-takers as a coping strategy. It is the same kind of fear of repercussions that we can find in some organizations. People lose their perspective as if they were in a hostage situation and start to act against their unwilling intent. From the outside they gladly execute, commit to the commandments that were made, so the behavior is a false ‘yes’.
  • The Otis Redding Syndrome: I borrow this one from Bob Sutton, who recalls the line from Otis Redding’s old song: Sitting By the Dock of the Bay, “Can’t do what ten people tell me to do, so I guess I’ll remain the same”. Clearly, this describes people with a good intention who are somehow hindered to follow their intention. In this model I will call this a false ‘no’.

 3. Systems thinking

One of the basic laws of system thinking is ‘The harder you push, the harder the system pushes back’. The same is true for resistance – in an awkward way: the resistance will go underground and on the surface indifference will appear. As a result you have lost every bit of visibility on resistance – but that’s not the worst thing.

The point is that indifference is never positive and always energy-draining. And that is the last thing you want to create whenever you are performing a big organizational change…

So thank God for resistance and always suspect yourself first!

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