Diana Schwenk is a brilliant blogger over at Talk To Diana. She has an interesting device she uses on the weekends called Diana’s Enormous Book of Quotes where she takes a quote she has seen recently and writes of its meaning to her. Last week her post was entitled Poking The Bear, and co-incidentally touched on the topic I wanted to explore this week. Please take a moment to visit Diana’s blog as she has much to add to our collective knowledge and awareness!!
In honor of Diana’s great work I wanted to name my post after hers. In her post last week Diana said: “Have you ever tried suggesting a new idea to a group that’s been doing things the same way forever? Did it result in blank faces looking back at you? Did it give rise to fierce opposition? If they bought the idea, did it pay off?” and equated the whole process to being “like poking a bear!”
I get it and I’ve seen it. I’ve also been on the other side … part of the group that is being asked to change and can identify with the metaphor of being the bear and feeling the prod of the stick.
What’s at work for us when this is happening? As an instigator of change, we are committed to our ideas! We believe in them! They are important! We are sure that when the change is in place things will be better!
So what’s wrong with the group? Why don’t they see it the same? How can they ignore the benefits of this great idea? Why are they getting their backs up?
I’ve seen some interesting literature on this topic lately. What it really comes down to is that the enemy of change is resistance. What this author (Rick Maurer “Beyond The Wall of Resistance”) proposes is that resistance to change appears at three levels:
- I don’t understand it! This is about information. It is the easiest level of resistance to deal with as we know what we know and we can communicate it. The problem is that when we encounter resistance we always assume it is level one resistance and can’t understand why once we’ve explained what we want to do that people continue to resist.
- I don’t like it! This is emotion at work. Usually fear. Generally we are comfortable where we are at. We might not be totally happy, but we are comfortable how to “show up” in the current situation. When something is to change we start to worry about how that will affect us. Will we still be comfortable in our new circumstances? To get past this we need to really engage the team in both understanding and shaping the change. We have to be willing to let the team change our change! Sounds tricky!
- I don’t like you! Now we are talking about trust. More specifically, mistrust! This is deep-seated resistance. When level 3 resistance shows up we’ve got work to do! Nothing changes until we can re-establish trust with the group. That needs honest, open, vulnerable engagement. It needs great listening, and it needs us to uncover and agree to what is needed to re-establish trust and then stick to our commitments.
No wonder the bear gets grumpy when poked!
I think there is actually another aspect to this that makes it even tougher. Groups form norms. These norms are important as they are the boundaries and rules for group membership. They provide a stable operating environment and let the group succeed at whatever first caused them to be a group. What that means is that by their nature groups want to preserve the status quo, and may go as far as to see things outside their norms as illogical, irrational, etc. This isn’t resistance to any particular change … just change to resistance in general!
How do you see this at work in your world? For me, I see this in myself. I know the three levels of resistance are at play … not in all changes, but in some. Sometimes when I am the change sponsor, I find I might get seduced by addressing the “I don’t understand” level of resistance. Having done a masterful job of explaining the need for change and why the change being proposed is the best possible solution, it is easy to believe that everyone else will see it exactly the same way. It doesn’t work that way!
I can think of one particular example of a proposed change in my world right now that I know that there is resistance at level one, level two and possibly even level three that hasn’t been addressed.
How about you? Any good stories about changes that went well (or not)?