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Managing Resistance to Change

Posted: January 11, 2012 by Rob Voyle

I think resistance to change is an act of wisdom!

Think of some change that you recently resisted. There are three reasons why you resist the change:

1: You cannot perceive the benefit of the change

2: You cannot perceive the outcome is worth the effort
   or resources to achieve the outcome

3: The change, regardless of perceived value, was imposed
   on you without your input.

The first two are interrelated and are based on the perception of value and not on the actual value. Only an idiot would put effort and resources into achieving something they can't see has any value.

The third reason is a response to having your essential dignity violated by someone imposing a blessing on us. Remember, Jesus didn't come and impose salvation on us, he came and lived as one of us. The incarnation is a radical story of God's valuing of humanity not a trespassing on humanity's dignity. Resisting a denigration of your dignity is also an act of wisdom for only an idiot would gladly let someone trample their dignity into the ground.

People love change when the change is perceived as a blessing, that is something of value that is worth the effort of achieving and that affirms their dignity. People will wisely resist change that demeans or takes them to a place of reduced value.

When it comes to resistance, as change agents, we need to be wiser than the people who are wisely resisting us.

Years ago I worked as a psychologist in a mental health clinic. Many of my clients were highly resistant to change. As the client would resist my therapeutic endeavors I would record their resistance in their chart: "Client remains resistant to change and therapist's efforts."

In those days I knew very little about the nature of resistance and how in many cases I was actually evoking the client's resistance. It is interesting to note that I never wrote in their chart: "Client continues to suffer from an incompetent therapist." Yet that would have been a more accurate description of reality. I just blamed the resistance on the client and not my incompetence.

Becoming a competent, skillful, and effective change agent has been my personal life-long quest and led me to people like David Cooperrider, the founder of Appreciative Inquiry and Milton Erickson, the forerunner of many positive change work processes. Understanding the nature of change and how to create change that will be welcomed as a blessing is at the heart of the Appreciative Way, a synthesis of their work and contemplative spirituality.

At its core the Appreciative Way is a way of being and doing in the world that explore the life-giving values and realities of the community and how to collaboratively grow what is truly life-giving.

If you are working with a group that is resistant to change and are thinking, "these people just don't get it," then start by "giving it."

Explore what they value, and not just the surface things such as power but the deeper life-giving things that the power is used to protect. Then create change by growing the perception of value that grows what is truly life-giving to you and the people. And do it incarnationally "with" them rather than "to" them.

If you would like to learn more about the Appreciative Way of creating change and resolving resistance then I invite you to participate in one of my Appreciative Inquiry and Transitions programs.

With blessings on your life and work.
Rob Voyle

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The Appreciative Way

The Appreciative Way
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About the Author

Rob Voyle

Rob Voyle

The Rev. Dr. Rob Voyle is a leader in the development and use of appreciative inquiry in church and coaching settings.

Rob's Approach to Training

  • Helpful: Training must provide practical, sustainable solutions for today's challenges.
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