Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 1, Issue 4;   January 24, 2001: Is It Really Resistance?

Is It Really Resistance?

by

The term resistance, as used in the context of organizational change, describes our reluctance to abandon the status quo. But it's a loaded term, because it devalues that reluctance. When we approach change with this model of reluctance in mind, we sabotage our own efforts.
Change

The term resistance arises often in the context of organizational change. We — and especially "change agents" — use it to describe something commonly called pushback. As a term, resistance is revealing, and its use signals a problem deep inside us, in our mental model of how change works. When we understand the term better, we handle change better.

Resistance is a loaded word. It carries with it the perspective of the change agent. Resistance is what the change agent encounters when change first begins to come into view as a real possibility. The term is inherently adversarial, because the "resistors" don't view themselves as resisting change, while the change agent does. From the resistors' perspective, they're just trying to hang on to a world they know and accept. Resistance is also pejorative, because it denigrates the people who "resist."

An adversarial, superior attitude is certainly not helpful to a change agent. Even though the change agent espouses a more collaborative approach, the use of the term resistance suggests the possibility of a deeper, less constructive position. People can pick this up, whether it's real or not, and when they do, their resentment of the change agent deepens.

I prefer a different name for the tendency of existing systems to keep doing what they've been doing. I call it active persistence — a less loaded, more positive term. Active persistence is the behavior that expresses attachment to things as they have been. When we think of it in this way, we gain some useful insights.

  • From the point of view of change agents, active persistence is a good thing. Active Persistence
    is a less loaded
    term for the
    tendency to cling
    to the old way
    It means that change has progressed so far that people feel the need to express attachment to what was.
  • When active persistence couples to anger and cynicism, it's likely that we've failed to honor the value of what is and what has been.
  • "Clean sheet" approaches are more likely to couple active persistence to anger and cynicism because they do so much more dishonor to what is and what has been.
  • People who engage in active persistence aren't so much opposing the new as they are expressing attachment to what is.
  • Active persistence helps us ensure that we don't act too hastily.

To keep active persistence decoupled from anger and cynicism, honor what is. Express your appreciation for how well the status quo worked in the past.

When you take this approach from the outset, you'll find two rewards. First, you'll be doing what you can to limit anger and cynicism, even though you'll still see some active persistence. When you deal with it directly, by engaging in dialog about what must change and why, you'll find your second reward. Your own views will change — for the better. Go to top Top  Next issue: The Zebra Effect  Next Issue

101 Tips for Managing ChangeIs your organization embroiled in Change? Are you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt? Read 101 Tips for Managing Change to learn how to survive, how to plan and how to execute change efforts to inspire real, passionate support. Order Now!

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More articles on Organizational Change:

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When we suddenly realize that what we've believed is wrong, or that what we've been doing won't work, our fear and discomfort can cause us to persevere in our illusions. If we can get better at accepting reality and dealing with it, we can make faster progress toward real achievement.
Philipse Manor Hall State Historic Site in Yonkers, New YorkGood Change, Bad Change: II
When we distinguish good change from bad, we often get it wrong: we favor things that would harm us, and shun things that would help. When we do get it wrong, we're sometimes misled by social factors.
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When we first perform actions or play roles unfamiliar to us, we make mistakes. We learn new ways not only by reading or being told, but also by practicing. Unless we feel that making mistakes at first is acceptable, learning might never occur.

See also Organizational Change for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A close-up view of a chipseal road surfaceComing July 3: Additive bias…or Not: II
Additive bias is a cognitive bias that many believe contributes to bloat of commercial products. When we change products to make them more capable, additive bias might not play a role, because economic considerations sometimes favor additive approaches. Available here and by RSS on July 3.
The standard conception of delegationAnd on July 10: On Delegating Accountability: I
As the saying goes, "You can't delegate your own accountability." Despite wide knowledge of this aphorism, people try it from time to time, especially when overcome by the temptation of a high-risk decision. What can you delegate, and how can you do it? Available here and by RSS on July 10.

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