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  • Gilbert Kruidenier

The hidden cost of 'Resistance'

This article is part of the #ChangeBlogChallenge on the topic of Change Resistance. Click here to see what other change thinkers say about this topic.

A more positive and sensible person will tell you that Resistance is just a word, easily replaced by others like, feedback, response or difference of opinion. That putting too much emphasis on the semantics just shuts down the conversation altogether. Well, I am not that person. I believe that words can be very powerful, especially when it comes to organisational and people dynamics, so choose wisely. It’s not the word Resistance itself that I have an issue with, it’s what it represents in our profession that I’ve come to detest.

Resistance is often the first word we hear when it’s time to list the potential risks to The Project, followed by the prophetic words: “I will just tell you now, staff won’t like it!”. It all goes downhill from there and before you can say ‘change-portfolio-risk-mitigation-planning’ three times in a row, someone’s at the whiteboard writing down tasks like ‘resilience training’, ‘resistance management’, ‘alignment sessions’, ‘control mechanisms’, and ‘performance improvement plans’.

Resistance is a curious thing, because it doesn’t occur naturally in organisations, most changes get done without fuss. You have to really work hard and make more than a few big mistakes for it to come alive. But once it does…good luck getting that genie back in the bottle. It’s the management equivalent of Munchausen by proxy, making the healthy sick in order to appear as their saviour or gain sympathy. What’s more twisted than that?

Resistance is what we call it when people don’t want what you want. When you have more power than them, that makes them the bad girls/guys and you the protector of all things good. Resistance is when a lack of open and honest communication with a group of people that were hired for their skills and talents, leads to misunderstandings and friction that then somehow becomes their fault. And they better fix it fast while the project team impatiently waits on the sidelines!

Resistance sets the default to: “I am right, therefore you must be wrong, so you better comply right now or else…”. Everything said after that is just noise in an ‘us versus them’ world. It is by far the best indicator of the complete incompetence and disconnection of an executive or management team who no longer believe that their job is to serve and support the people in their care. It’s also an alluring but false and self-fulfilling prophecy that keeps morale low, fear high and a whole advisory industry in jobs, for reasons that no one really understands, other than 'that's just how things are done' and some intangible threat of unbridled chaos ‘…if staff ever found out’. It’s the lazy person’s solution to dealing with groups of people who outnumber you, collectively outsmart you and don’t like The Plan (likely for good reasons).

Resistance causes embarrassment, because it reeks of failure and hints at a lack of control, unity and solidarity in the ranks, which are to be avoided at all times! It makes good people do really bad things to save face, restore their pride and regain a sense of control. Resistance is a lose-lose proposition in which both players bear the cost of valuable and sometimes irreplaceable things like respect, reputation, credibility, dignity, enjoyment of work and basic humanity. And for what exactly…?

If we genuinely want to keep supporting this Resistance worldview, we owe it to the people in our care to also explain the hidden costs. If they knew and understood these costs, they might just start writing up a different to-do list on that whiteboard like: ‘listen’, ‘create full transparency’, ‘it's us AND them’, ‘be accountable’ and ‘celebrate diversity of minds’.

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