Change Resistance and the Invitation of No

by | Jan 29, 2019 | PACE approach

No. Simple to write. Simple to sound out. Often difficult to say and to practice. “No” clears the environment of threats to focus, intent and flow. “No” signals an awareness of your priorities. “No” is a judgement that something new / different is outside the bounds of what’s central, important, and critical at the current time. 

Change, No, and Change Resistance

It’s no surprise, therefore, that “no” is a common reaction to a change initiative – organisationally, technologically, job structure wise, office space layout, and more. When the proposed change interferes with focus, intent and flow, “no” signals the desire for settled continuity, a push back on an interruption, a demand to be exempted from or unaffected by the change. 

“No” tests the integrity of the proposed change and the fortitude and character of the people introducing the change. A change that is solidly based on analysis and has a strong base of supporters stands a better chance against the initial wave of “no.” Changes that reflect the flavour of the month, the latest management fad, or some other consultant-inspired meaningless drivel will fare less well – as they should.

“No” can be an ultimatum from which the person will never budge, or more of an initial reaction that opens an opportunity for real engagement, interaction, dialogue and conversation. When the person saying “no” hasn’t been involved or hasn’t had the chance to learn, enquire, engage and question, the “no” isn’t as set in rock. 

But in both cases it’s the same word. If the person or group advocating the change dig in their toes and push their agenda with renewed vigour, the tentative “no” can turn into the ultimatum version. If the person or group advocating the change can welcome the push back, the resistance, the unconvinced skepticism of another person, there is an opportunity to dislodge the initial “no.” But not in a contest sense, where one wins and one loses. No demands real engagement, interaction, dialogue and conversation to explore both the problem space and solution space together. This is challenging when the work has already been done, the solution fully planned, and the collateral ready to deliver. Communication, invitation, engagement, and opportunity for learning together expand the timeframe initially, but enable a faster pace later.

Sometimes there are emergencies and the change is take it or leave it. Do what’s demanded or face drastic conditions. A strong leader who has built support for his or her leadership and decisions through respect-based interactions over time can – when required – pull off such an emergency change. But when the emergency is just faked, or the change is just founded on what one person thinks, “no” is the right response.

It’s easy to paint the “no” groups as the bad players, the unsupportive, the “they just don’t get it” group. But perhaps they are using the last bastion of defense they have available, because every other place to stand has been denied, withheld, or ignored.

This article is a response to the #ChangeBlogChallenge on Change Resistance. See #ChangeBlogChallenge: Resistance.

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