How leaders can embrace resistance

Why do some leaders resist the idea of hearing others out? There are many reasons, according to Suzanne Waldron

How leaders can embrace resistance
Leaders and change makers encounter a barrage of circumstances on any given day that require the need to convince, influence, understand and negotiate change. It’s not uncommon for inexperienced leaders to pretend to collaborate (with positive intention) despite having already decided the outcome. Why do some leaders resist the idea of hearing others out? Some of the many reasons include:
-          it takes too long
-          over collaboration occurs and no action takes place
-          disregard for other people’s points of view
-          it means the leader won’t be right
-          protection of self, or the change itself
Here are three points to consider:
1) Creating an unknown bias
I was recently observing a manager facilitate a discussion with her team. She read out all the points of view written on the whiteboard in response to a question posed moments before. As she called them out one by one, I noticed a pattern emerging. She was rewarding the positive comments with praise, and not commenting on the negative ones. Whilst this may seem an insignificant fact, it has significant impact on driving change. Unconsciously, she was setting up a bias in the room: when something positive is happening it’s good, and when something negative is happening it’s neutral or not noteworthy. When leaders want to encourage deep change and real opinions, particularly within controversial or complex issues, it’s essential to be able to appreciate and consider all points of view.
2) Ecology
In the behavioural change world, ecology is considered the study of consequences. When we ask people what they believe will happen when X occurs, or what they will lose if Y takes place, it provides them with an opportunity to understand their fears, thoughts and meaning. This information often gives the chance to recalibrate or learn new information, which could indeed change the course of the change itself. Ultimately, it opens the narrative to check understanding, which is why it’s important that leaders continually ask these types of questions.
3) Open to difference
Upon hearing a conversation play out in a senior leadership offsite recently, the CEO admitted to feeling distressed with the COO’s remarks to her about an issue they were openly discussing. The CEO opened up the conversation to the senior leadership team to understand the COO’s point of view. The CEO managed to create a curious state of mind, despite being in a personally emotional and increasingly tenuous situation, in order to appreciate another’s point of view. It saved the issue from quickly escalating.
Various aspects of work motivate different people. If not respected, these differences may lead to conflict battlegrounds, protecting territories, bucking up against others over the smallest of incidents and creating a micro short-term narrow viewed environment, which is largely focussed on self. If leaders can truly open to change and accept difference, they have a better chance of cohesion with their peers, and an even better chance of increasing critical and generative thinking that serves a bigger vision.
What you can do:
Allowing the open aeration of a thought and feeling goes a long way to cohesive change in the workplace. Next time you are facilitating change, in whichever mode you use, check if you’re resistant to the other side of thinking in the team. If you allow the discussion to open up, see what nuggets of change you may find deep in the minds of those people who are on that change journey with you.

Suzanne Waldron is a leadership & behavioural change specialist, author and facilitator.


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