Practical Tips for Overcoming Resistance to Change Initiatives

Practical Tips

Here is an excerpt from an interview of Xavier Amador conducted by Mark Goulston that appeared in Harvard Business Review and the HBR Blog Network. In it, Amador explains why, although many managers and leaders are under pressure to get things done quickly, pressuring subordinates frequently leads to resistance. This is not due to stubbornness as much as it is due those subordinates simply feeling overwhelmed by the volume of work they have. Emotions also come into play; for instance, if you’re trying to get through to an irate customer or shareholder, it can be tough to break through the resistance their anger creates.

To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, and sign up for a subscription to HBR email alerts, please click here.

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To get some tips on how to overcome resistance I reached out to Xavier Amador, originator of the LEAP Method (LEAP stands for Listen-Empathize-Agree-Partner) and Founder of the LEAP Institute and author of I’m Right, You’re Wrong, Now What?

How to Break the Impasse and Get What You Need.

MG: Dr. Amador, or shall I call you, Xavier, how did you come up with the idea that we needed a more effective way of overcoming resistance than the usual pushy/persuasive approach?

XA: Mark please call me Xavier. Okay if I call you Mark?

MG: Of course!

XA: Before answering your question, I want to point out something that just happened. By asking me what name I prefer you call me by, you took a step toward connecting with me and not creating resistance — You did this before we were even out of the gate! I practice the same simple habit with almost everyone. Without asking, you didn’t know if I would find “Dr. Amador” too formal and distancing, or “Xavier” too presumptuous and disrespectful. Either reaction would have raised a little resistance. And the fact that you pronounced my name correctly — “Javier” instead of “Zavier” — helped too. You obviously took the trouble to find out, or saw me speaking, and remembered the pronunciation. So without hearing one word from me you were already listening. And that’s the cornerstone to lowering resistances.

Now to your question: I would love to say the idea was mine, but it’s actually ancient wisdom and the result of paying attention to what actually works. The lesson learned is: You don’t win on the strength of your argument. You win on the strength of your relationship. And you can strengthen relationships in seconds and easily by putting down your rusty overused communication tools and picking up some new ones. Feedback from thousands of LEAP followers who are owners, CEO’s, managers and sales reps reinforced the universality of this vital lesson I learned years ago working with psychotic patients who were literally living in an alternate universe: it feels [like] “What planet is he on?” when someone gives us a reflexive no and resists what is obviously common sense.

You never win on the strength of your argument — or your negatively perceived directive if you are the one holding power in the relationship. Even if your subordinate does what you wanted, the initial resistance will fester and spread as they implement the details. If it was pushed down their throats, instead of something they felt some ownership of, they will resist…[and] it will come back to bite you later. What we hear over and over again is this: “When I stopped trying to convince her and instead focused on listening to his point of view and respecting it, the resistance just disappeared. It happened so fast it felt like magic!”

MG: Why do so many people especially managers and leaders approach resistance in such an ineffective manner?

XA: Because its natural to punch back. It’s a lifelong habit most people have. We repeat ourselves, often more loudly and over and over again, when someone hasn’t heard or doesn’t agree. When I have a good idea, a solution to a problem, or a product/service I know will increase market penetration, I am eager to communicate it to the other person or group. And when I get resistance, it feels like I’ve been pushed back or hit. And so the reflex is to push or hit back — to counter punch in an effort to show the other side why they were wrong. The reflex is to stand my ground.

This type of interaction looks just like a boxing match. Using LEAP we’ve learned you can stand your ground without verbally hitting back. Here’s the first and most important tool: When you get resistance, [say to yourself], “Shut up, listen and win!”

That’s what I say to myself to remember to use the tools I know work. “Shut up” may sound rude and counter productive, but for me it’s a splash of cold water. It gets my attention so I can stop dismantling and start using my authority to build stronger relationships. That’s the prize, a strong relationship. Strong relationships are the key to meaningful and effective partners and work relationships. Nothing else comes close to being as important. No productive business can exist without strong relationships — think about it. And yet, too often, we ignore the “state of the union” while resistance, defensiveness and even tempers are on the rise.

Now that you’ve stopped talking, to show you listened, repeat back what you’ve heard “So you don’t think this will work and it’s a bad idea because…. Did I get that right?” Just listen and make sure you’ve heard it the way the other person meant it.

Then explore just a little bit more. Go for the emotion behind the push back. Empathize. [Say something like,] “Now that I understand your position, I can see why you would be uneasy buying in.” Take the resistance that is negative energy and use it, by absorbing it, so the person feels respected and safe, lowers their defenses, and as a result opens up to you.

In this exchange, instead of boxing, the verbal interaction looks more like Jujitsu. You meet the resistance, not with a push or punch but instead with open hands. As the person comes at you with their resistance, with open hands you step aside and embrace the negative movement, use its energy, to move the person where you want them.

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To read the complete interview, please click here.

Mark Goulston, M.D., F.A.P.A. is a business psychiatrist, executive consultant, keynote speaker and co-founder of Heartfelt Leadership. He is the author of Just Listen and co-author of Real Influence: Persuade Without Pushing and Gain Without Giving In (AMACOM, 2013). Contact him directly here.

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