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Resistance is your ally

July 25, 2022


It is now time to look at the area of Resistance.
Reflection Scenario: If you are doing these exercises with a group, brainstorm among team members when there has been a significant initiative (It may be a current initiative, or one from the past) — an initiative that brewed controversy within the team and/or within the organization. Select from those generated one initiative + controversy that is most representative of other similar incidents. Reflect on who was involved, what the issue(s) was, how you as a team mobilized to meet the controversy.
Reflection Questions:
1. How did you try to defuse the situation (e.g. controlling the conversation)?

2. What toll did this take on you personally? On the team?

3. To date, have there been any lessons that team members have learned about the nature of resistance, and how it can best be handled?

Resistance is an opposing force that slows or stops movement. Leadership teams should come to expect it. It is ubiquitous. It tends to rear its head especially when organization teams are mobilizing for new initiates – in programming, in marketing, in staffing, in facilities. It is important not to be surprised when resistance emerges. In fact, it is an element in the process that should be welcomed. Welcome it, then learn to handle it correctly.
All of us from time to time resist. It’s a way of protecting ourselves from real or perceived danger. And perceived danger lurks most notably when change is unfolding. In and of itself, resistance is not a bad thing. It’s merely energy. If we can effectively redirect that energy, we can move the resistance in the direction of change.
As noted in Thriving, resistance can take on many guises (adapted from Rick Maurer, Beyond the Wall of Resistance. {Austin: Bard Books, 1996]):
 Confusion: “So why are we doing this (after many explanations)?”
 Immediate criticism. “What a dumb idea.”
 Denial. “I don’t see any problem here.”
 Malicious compliance: “I concur completely and wholeheartedly.”
 Sabotage. “Let’s get him!”
 Easy Agreement. “No problem.”
 Deflection: “What do you think the Cubs’ chances are this year?”
 Silence.
 In-your-face criticism. “You’re the worst leader we’ve ever had!”

When faced with resistance, we can act in one of two ways: in the Red Zone, or in the Blue Zone. When we react in the Red Zone, we first assume that the resistance is about our selves (“Why doesn’t he like what I’m proposing? Does he think I’m incompetent?”), not our roles. Feeling personally attacked. Then we:

 Use power
 Manipulate those who oppose
 Apply force of reason
 Ignore the resistance
 Play off relationships
 Make deals
 Kill the messenger
 Give in too soon
You can be well-aware that you’re in the Red Zone with your responses when:

 They increase rather than decrease resistance
 They fail to create synergy
 They create fear and suspicion
 They separate us from others

So what to do? Remember, you must be in the Blue Zone (see the Appendix in Thriving) which involves:

 Maintain clear focus:
 Embrace resistance (Remember, it’s my ally!):
 Respect those who resist
 Join with the resistance
Now revisit the original issue generated above that has troubled the leadership team. Discuss with the leadership team how to implement these suggestions.


About Dr. Jim Osterhaus

Dr. Jim Osterhaus is the Senior Executive Coach at Leighton Ford Ministries with extensive experience helping ministry leaders and organizations
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