Rick Maurer, author of Beyond the Wall of Resistance and other books on leadership and change, developed the Energy Bar™ as a free tool to help people in organizations get their ideas across in ways that get people committed and engaged. RickRick has advised leaders from many countries on ways to apply this new tool successfully.


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When Conversation Is A Bad Idea

When Conversation Is A Bad Idea

Not listening to people and being willing to be influenced by what they have to say is a sure way to invite resistance.  You probably knew that already!

I am a fan of listening, but you’ve got to know what you are getting into. A good friend attended a workshop that showed executives how to use the ideas that appear in a very popular book on change management.  The executives were taught how to encourage conversation among people who need to support a change. The instructors told them that people need to “ get their feelings out.” The thinking, I assume, is that if people get a chance to gripe and whine for a while, they will get over their foolish resistance, and things can move along. Or, a less cynical reaction might be that “getting feelings out” serves as a catharsis.

This Is a Bad idea.

This misguided thinking puts all responsibility for fear and resistance on the people (I’ll call them the stuckees) who need to follow the leaders. Nothing in their “get people talking to each other” addresses the reasons why people might be reluctant or resistant in the first place. Perhaps they are resisting because it’s a bad idea; or because they don’t trust that senior leadership has the capacity to lead this project effectively; or perhaps no one has explained the need for a change in a way that makes sense to them. Those are all good reasons for resistance - and just getting their feelings out won’t reduce any of their questions or concerns.

In fact, a nasty paternalism is at play. The kindly leaders listen intently demonstrating that they want the kids to feel free to talk. And, once all that stuff is out of the way, the kids will realize that father (or mother) really did know best.

A Better Way

A much better approach would be to allow people to talk with the leaders (face-to-face, focus groups, surveys, etc.) so that the real reasons for resistance (and support) can be identified. And then, the leaders can engage people around the real issues, and even ask for their help in creating plans or dealing with critical issues.

What if leaders heard that people were afraid that this change might cost them their jobs? That’s big. If their fears are unwarranted, then leaders can tell them that. However, if this could result in downsizing, then leaders could ask for employees’ help in designing the change so that it will result in minimal (or no) reduction in staff. (I’ve seen that happen!) Or, at the very least, they could be honest and tell people what’s going to happen. (I’ve seen that happen too.)

What’s important to remember is there are no born “resisters.” People resist in response to something. Think of resistance as a cause and effect phenomenon. When you feel resistance, ask, “What’s prompting my reaction?”  

Resistance protects people from harm. Suppose that I’m a novice downhill skier. It’s resistance that keeps me from taking the chair lift to the top of Bodycast Mountain. In an organization, resistance keeps me from saying yes to an assignment that I think will kill my career. People may read the risks wrong, but in their minds the danger is real. When we learn the actual reasons for resistance then we have options. We can barrel ahead or we could engage people in conversations that encouraged them to help us improve the plans.

Here’s where The Energy Bar comes in. The “get it off your chests” approach fails to respect the gap between the leaders’ energy and the energy of those who have a stake in what’s going on. The work is in the gap between the energy leaders think they need and the energy they are getting.

I wish you well.


A version of this post appeared first on RickMaurer.com