Resistance is having a moment, it seems. After a year that felt completely out of control, many of us are trying our best to regain control. As we return to the workplace and get back to in-person interactions, resistance can start or prolong conflict unnecessarily. Here are some ways to break through resistance – yours as well as others.
First, let’s identify the ways resistance can show up. When you avoid conflict, difficult discussions, or important issues because they make you uncomfortable, that’s resistance. When you concede to someone’s point but spend time later ruminating on how wrong they are and how right you were, that’s resistance. When you refuse to listen to new information that may be relevant to your decision, that’s resistance. Resistance keeps you stuck, fuming, instead of accepting reality and moving on.
Ask yourself if you’re resisting for the right reasons. Are you really concerned about the issue, or just invested in being right? Are you angry about this particular incident or decision, or is your resistance the result of cumulative frustration over the past few months or several discussions that haven’t gone your way? Is this issue important enough to risk losing a relationship, an opportunity, or your job?
Many of us resist ideas, policies, or change because we don’t feel heard. We believe that our concerns or point of view are being downplayed, and that just makes us want to dig in deeper. Becoming angry or emotional in a discussion can make it even harder for the other person to listen and give your ideas consideration.
If feeling heard is a part of your resistance, try taking a step back and writing down your thoughts. Writing gives you the opportunity to organize your ideas and cool down your language. You may be able to find data or research to help support your points. You have options after you’ve written down your thoughts: you can choose to file or throw out your email or memo; the act of writing down what you feel can be cathartic even if no one else reads what you wrote.
You can also choose to send your thought, but if your conflict is with the person in charge, it’s important to add reassurances that you intend to comply with the decision they have made. Make your concerns known but think long and hard before you decide to take (or resist) an action that may harm your career.
Notice that most of this post is about your own resistance, not those wrong-thinking people you were hoping we’d help you fix. That’s because you’re the only one you have any real influence over. It’s very, very hard to overcome someone else’s resistance and change someone’s mind without coercion.
But you can practice what might help, which is making people feel heard. Ask thoughtful questions like “What would make this better for you?” or “What do you want to happen?” Then listen carefully to the answers. Responses like “I can see why you might feel that way” or “I may not agree, but I appreciate you being open about your feelings.”
If you can listen without judgment, you can help others overcome their own anger and resistance. Robin Dreeke, the author of The Code of Trust, says, “Respect the opinions, attitudes, ideas, and perspectives of all people—no matter how foreign, or even opposed to your own. No one trusts people who look down on them, and no one trusts people who don’t understand them.” You don’t have to agree to listen with respect. If you can master this skill, you’ll help create a world with much less resistance and conflict.