Easing past social resistance

Who is in this with me?

Do I fit in?

EeyoreEvery coaching client or participant wants to know:  am I alone in this? Many times somewhere in a coaching session a client would ask something like: “Is it just me who have these issues?” or “I sometimes wonder of my situation is more messed up than other people’s”. Just yesterday one asked me: “Do other women also struggle with the fact that their male colleagues are allowed to rant and rave and get all emotional, but as women they get patronised when they get upset?”.

In facilitations, it is often feedback like: “we discovered that our problems are very similar” or “i am so glad I am not alone in this”, that helps the facilitator know that social resistance is breaking down. Yet, this is not one you can give a single blow and be done with, it can take some people a long time to feel part of a group. This type of resistance must be gently worked on throughout a coaching session or a facilitation.

In the Lord of the Rings Frodo has learned that he is chosen (breaking through personal resistance) he has learned that he can trust Gandalf  (relational resistance) and he has heard the plan (practical resistance). Now he trembles as he almost accepts his duty…”So I must go to Mordor and deliver this ring into the fires that created it. And I must go alone…” But Gandalf surprises him. The wizard gets up, opens the door and brings in Samwise who had been eavesdropping the entire time. Neither Samwise nor Frodo can believe their good fortune when Gandalf informs them that Samwise must accompany Frodo. Sam is thrilled because of the promise of adventure, Frodo is thrilled because he would not be alone.

Samwise becomes Frodo’s loyal companion and it is thanks to him that Frodo finally manages to achieve the objective. We all need loyal support when we accept a new idea, try out a new habit or open up to a new perspective. But there are other social forces too that are needed to make sure we succeed and we must work on all of them throughout a process. I will share six of them with you here. Note that they work together in pairs.

1. The Sidekick and the Sceptic

Samwise is an example of the Sidekick – someone usually in the same peer group as the hero (the hero is of course your audience member). It can help to tell a story or produce a testimonial from someone like them who has gone through a similar problem as them and successfully made it through.  It is even more powerful if you can let people in a team coaching session or facilitation share stories and they become each others’ supporters. Like Piglet for Winnie the Pooh it is important that people are supported unquestioningly and with positivity. Yet opposite piglet sits Eeyore…

Sceptics who end up succeeding provide the most powerful success stories. A sceptic’s voice is even more powerful when he/she is of a higher status than the general status of your audience: if their boss’s is willing to share their own story of struggle, it can be an especially meaningful experience for participants, especially of this person really struggled to accept a certain truth or perspective that may be useful for their learning. Piglets bring positivity into a room, but Eeyores bring gravity and credibility.  What would it mean to my client who asked the question about men and women in the workplace if she could talk to an influencail woman leader about her frustrations? Especially if it was also someone who were sceptical about voicing her thoughts out loud at first, but had begun to speak out?

2. Emotion and Reason

People need to know that they will be both emotionally and mentally accepted into the fold. They need to feel good about participating and be able to satisfy their logic. If both Tigger and Owl support take part, they will be likely to accept it too. Ever wondered why advertisements either use sex appeal or scientific proof to make their point? Your case is doubly stronger if you can do both. This is why so many presentations use either a celebrity or a professor’s quote or story to strengthen an idea.

In both coaching and facilitation it is important to strike a careful balance so that you make room for emotions and listen to them, but also provide models and structures for the brain to make sense of the learning.  It is, for instance, important for me to allow my client to explore both the feelings and logic around the different behaviour of men and women in the workplace. Focussing on feelings may make her feel that her experiences were only emotional and not also logical. Focussing on the logic could cause her not to deal with her emotions around it and keep her from reflecting on it rationally and come up with solutions.

3. The Guide and Contagonist 

When all is said and done, you as the guide will be inviting the audience into your peer group. They need to like and  trust you and they need to know if you like and trust them. But is extremely important in coaching and facilitation that you are careful to applaud or judge too readily. Because your status is very high, your response can cloud your clients’ reading of his or her own inner responses – inner responses that are essential for the long term success of your processes. Grateful acceptance of absolutely any contribution is vital so that people do not clam p and put up their defences once more.

You as Guide face the opposite energy of the Contagonist. These are people or ideas that will distract, tempt and confuse your audience. Your job is to guide them through these possible misunderstandings, distortions and false solutions that may be hidden in the ideas that arise in the process you are facilitating. Failing to do so will leave people vulnerable to failure, but will also leave the process open to criticism.  How you deal with distractions and confusing ideas is important to keep the faith of those who want to follow you through the woods to deeper insight and wisdom.

sometimes it may be important for you take a strong stand against interruptions and unmask them as disruptive threatening to highjack the process that people are on. How you handle such interruptions can greatly influence the levels of resistance in your audience.

But be careful, for seven whole volumes Harry Potter distrusted and suspected Severus Snape, but Snape ended up playing a vital role in saving both Hogwarts and Harry from destruction.  After Harry heard his true story,  sadly a little too late, Harry named one of his own sons after him. Like sceptic’s sometimes make the best witnesses, distractions can sometimes turn out to hold the best solutions.

My client’s question of earlier was the very kind of distraction I am talking about. We were just at the end of our session about how she could be more assertive in meetings and not so disengaged. My first reaction was to think that this question had nothing to do with anything until I realised that, in fact, it was at the core of her disengagement. Rather than risking becoming upset in meetings and be labelled as over emotional woman, she was checking out. The session went to a much deeper level after that.

When you can welcome loyal supporters, sceptics, emotion, reason and valuable distractions into the room, while at the same time modulating your own applause or judgement and handling negative distractions, you have reached the pinnacle of your career as coach and facilitator. This is indeed an art. The better you are at it, the less resistance there is in the room.

Of course, you can stack up all of your tricks to help people move past resistance and then a hand goes up at the back and they ask: So what is the plan? How will this work?  That is when you face practical resistance . More on this next time.

For more on the archetypes google Dramatica.

Click here to get more training in facilitation and coaching through Story-Strategy and Applied Improvisation




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