Recognizing Resistance

There are clues in the behavior of others when they seem reluctant to buy into whatever it is you are trying to communicate.  If you ignore the warning signals, you risk communication to shut down just as would the engine of your car if you take no responsibility when warning indicators light up.

Instead of looking into the reasons why resistance is coming from the other person, some of us often simply seek an explanation.  Before man had any knowledge of yeasts, bacteria and other microbes, a theory of spontaneous generation seemed like a good explanation for things like infections, and fermentation.  It just wasn’t true.

It is good to have empathy, and wish to look inside yourself for why you might be cautious in the same situation where another person is expressing some concern.  But beware of the risk of presuming the other person is driven by the same wants, and therefore the same fears that account for your own behavior.  In fact, the other person may not be like you at all in some ways you might otherwise think they are, and therefore take for granted something that just isn’t true at all.

By “explaining”, I refer to the rationale of using presuppositions already accepted as if they are the same as fact rather than looking for the facts that could support a thesis or argument.  Here’s an example of what I mean:

John is telling Bill about his proposal for a departmental realignment, which includes the merger with another department: Bill’s.

John is known for his enthusiasm, and always puts out a maximum effort to get involvement from other team members.  John sees the project resulting in a high level of both corporate and customer approval.  John’s approach to Bill is on the assumption that Bill is driven to want the same things.  John thinks everybody should want the same things he does.  No matter how much John would want it to be that way, it just isn’t true.

Bill is known for his thorough planning.  He is cautious of change until he has had a chance to study all the ramifications of it.  That process is important to him, because to take action without understanding the variables is wrong.  Bill, more than anything else, hates to be wrong.

Here is what is likely to happen:

Bill, in an attempt to gather more information, especially data forewarning of risks and hazards that could come from the realignment and merger, is going to avoid any deadline, and he is also likely to avoid John.  The more John shows his enthusiasm for the project, the more Bill will see him as impulsive.  John will continue to call team meetings, which Bill sees as a waste of time because Bill feels he can produce more accurate information if allowed to work alone.

Bill’s reluctance to be a “team player” makes John tense, and the tension shows.  He tries to assert himself by cornering Bill, and telling him he is just being too analytical.  While there may be some truth to that, Bill will see it as an attack.  Bill is analytical, but for John to call him that in such a manner generates no more benefit than if he’d just called him “Obstinate”.  Unless the conflict between John’s need for applause, and Bill’s need to not be wrong can be resolved, the project could be in trouble.  Because of failing to make it work, John and Bill could be in trouble, too.

It’s good to understand some things about your own style of behavior, but also the styles of the others around you.  More than that, you need to see how others view your style in the workplace.  You can tell a lot by simply paying attention to how they act around you.  Find good adjectives to describe the observable behavior of others.  Make a list of them, but make sure you only keep the non-judgmental ones.  The risk of being judgmental could undermine any validity in your findings.  Take the time to see how these words modify something positive you notice about others.

A positive comment about how a co-worker went about a task, and especially because it was uniquely associated with the talents that person brings to the team, will go a long way towards understanding, cooperation, and mutual commitments to help each other get what you both want.  Don’t over-do it!  Flattery is not the same thing as a compliment, and can often be seen as little more than pandering.

Who are John and Bill?  Though they are models from a real life scenario I observed in the late 1980’s, on some days, they are both a significant, and often quite noticeable…part of me.

8 responses to this post.

  1. Van, that post was like answering a mathematical word problem for me. “If a train is traveling at 75 miles an hour from Chicago to Dallas, how many chickens are in a peck of pickles?” I hope John and Bill didn’t get into a fist fight over the proposal.

    Communication is always a tricky thing. We’re all wired differently and sometimes mixing our wiring patterns can cause a short. Bzzzt! Look out for the sparks! LOL!

    Me, I just continue to muddle through and try not to make too many people mad at once. But I’ve found that somebody’s always gonna get mad and somebody’s always not going to understand the other’s point of view. Kinda stinks, but that’s how it goes no matter how hard we try sometimes.


  2. Posted by Dostadawg on May 2, 2012 at 7:47 pm

    YUP. I can’t for the life of me understand why other people don’t see things EXACTLY as I do!


    • Van, I think you are completely right in what you say and it is all too easy to assume that other people think like we do. It’s taken me an awful long time to learn that basic lesson and I wish I had read this blog when I was 18!

      Where you really ‘got’ me was in the very last sentence where you say that John and Bill are not necessarily polar opposites but can reside in the same person, e.g. you. Got me thinking about you and your friend Mark Twain!


  3. Posted by Marlene Humberd on May 2, 2012 at 10:29 pm

    A combination of John and Bill is also our son , Dan . More John, the first five years of his career ; he just couldn’t understand why everyone else just came to work , went home ,and didn’t really want to get involved .He couldn’t understand why everyone at the company didn’t want what he wanted for the company . This dissatisfaction led to his decision to go to grad school to find a better job situation for him . The MBA program at UT taught him so much more than supply chain and asset planning . The groups ,projects , and project leaders were changed every 4 weeks . He learned to delegate , to use everyone’s strengths to counter-balance other’s weakness, to work together for a common goal , and to appreciate the value of each person in the group project. Most of all he learned that no person is always perfect , including himself .


  4. Posted by little d on May 2, 2012 at 10:32 pm

    I think we all can relate and learn from this press Van. I’ve witnessed the same, played both occupational parts, and definitely recognized how this role is eternally played out within myself too.

    I would assume that each of us in some form and fashion can see these parts being played out when we ponder making a decision that determines the many mulititudes of both risks and rewards commonly condemplated during decision making.

    Myself, I think the Heart of this press is the not so known reality of whats really ticking inside others. Others, like ourselves, can be down right impossible to figure some time, or to but it another way, deceptively simple one time, endlessly complicating another.

    “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”
    Alvin Toffler

    Good post VT

    press on

    little d


  5. Posted by Mickey Foster on May 2, 2012 at 10:36 pm

    It is 6:40 and I have consumed way too much red wine from my red Solo cup to respond……..but, for the record, I am John….


  6. Posted by Tyler Parris on May 3, 2012 at 4:20 pm

    I might share a link to this with my executive leadership team.


  7. Posted by Betty on May 3, 2012 at 5:32 pm



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