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




Relational resistance: Why should they trust you?

Demonstrating the magic

Picture of the lion Aslan

So, you have painted a picture of the possibility and opened a gap between the participants’ or client’s current reality and the ideal. Out of that gap arises five types of resistance, because to get to the ideal, they will have to change. You have begun to deal with personal resistance, but now you realise that some of them do not yet trust you. Sure, they can see that it is in their interest to change. They even see that it fits their own convictions to do so, byt why should you be the one to guide them across the gap? Why you?

The only reason why Frodo was able to go on that first leg of the journey to the land of Mordor, was because Gandalf told him to do so. Why does Cinderella do what the Fairy God Mother told her to do? Because it is the Fairy Godmother who told her to do it! But how did Gandalf get Frodo to trust him? And the Fairy Godmother Cinderella? By demonstrating their magic.

Yes, it helps to rattle off an impressive CV and it helps to list your credentials, but this is not half as powerful as turning pumpkins into carriages. You see, demonstrating magic simply means, letting your audience see ordinary things in a whole new light. What they thought were mice are really white horses and what they thought was an ordinary looking ring is turned into a powerful magic heirloom.

But this alone is not enough.

The magic provided must be personalised: the more it is personalised, the more pernanently resistance will dissolve. Cinderella could not go to the ball until she wore a dress perfectly fitted to her body, in a colour most flattering to her. And Frodo could only take up the ring knowing that only a hobbit like himself, who is resistant to its power, and only an heir of Bilbo, who knows how to have empathy with the weak, could do it.

Here are three of the most used ways in which I see people help the others to trust them by revealing their magic.

1. By revealing their knowledge and expertise

2. By sharing personal experience

3. By relating to the audience’s experience

But how personalised is it?

Let’s look at them more closely.

1. Demonstrating knowledge and expertise

How many times have you heard someone say from the front of a room something like: The Harvard School of business has proved that 93 % of a certain group of people do something a certain way, but in fact it is the 7% that is left that are successful.  Then you reveal the logic behind this finding giving facts, statistics and logical argument until, like that 7% your audience also sees the light.  If they buy the logic, they will buy you.

And then they go home and their friends or partner have a counter argument, how personalised was the magic? Can they rebuff?

2. Share your personal experience

The typical story here says: in 19 so and so, I faced this or that challenge, today I stand here having overcome, these are the simple things I did, the action I took,  to make it work.

This time you were the yahoo in the story and by trial and error, you saw the light and now you can share your innovations with the audience.  your magic. Your listeners believesyou, because you are living proof.

But how do they fit your solution to their personal context and reality? IS your identification with their pain strong enough and personalised enough?

3. Relating to the audience

The template fir this technique typically goes: you know how you sometimes do x, y, z only to discover a,b,c? How many times do we have to bang our heads against this same thing?

By citing typical behaviour and experience common to all human beings, you show how your listeners themselves intuitively know that these are the steps to take in spite of the doubts and questions they may have. You can do this with great humour as you typify universal experiences and satirise people’s common reactions.  . Again you have shown yourself to be the one to trust because you know them and you can even clarify their own muddled experience and make sense of it.

The better they can see themselves in your story and relate it to their own, the better the chances are that you have won them over for good. But what if you get it wrong?

I have to admit, I struggle with this one often, especially if I am not face to face to the audience, but writing a sales page for a training or coaching product. Speaking the language of the listener (client) is often the most tricky for me. This is because,  I do not blieve I have the right to presume anything about another person before checking with them about where they are. Too much helpful advise is given by people who have not listened to where the client is at. All the above methods are top down ways of working and might come across as patronising and self aggrandising. For starters, at the very least let someone else give your CV, not yourself. CV’s are important, they give context and gravity to who you are and help to build trust, but not if you have to deliver them yourself.

Far more important, though, is to allow the participants to try out your magic for themselves. Yes, tell them where it comes from and what your own background contributed to it, and then let them apply it to their own situation. The singularly most effective way to do this is to let them try it out.  Devise a taster of the tool, model or ideas to help them experience and make sense of it for themselves. Once you have done this, let then talk about it with their friends. A central principle of this way of working is SHOW, don’t TELL. Let them do the telling and so convince themselves that what you are offering fit their needs exactly. They have tried it, it works, you are not a liar and can therefore be trusted.

A story example

There is a powerful scene in C. S. Lewis’s ‘The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe’ where the lion and mentor Aslan tell Peter that he will be a king. Peter does not trust Aslan in this. He says that he could not possibly be  a king, that Aslan must be mistaken. Aslan does not know how much of a coward he, Peter, is, Aslan does not really understand him, Peter, at all. While they are still talking an enemy wolf attacks Peter’s sisters, Lucy and Susan. Peter runs to attack the wolf and his friends want to assist him, but Aslan holds them back saying “This is his fight”. He allows Peter to fight with the wolf and kill him overcoming his own doubt.

Of course Aslan does not send Peter into the battle without a sword, but it is in using the sword that Peter makes it his own – in fighting his own battle, that he overcomes his doubt in Aslan.

However, it is not always possible to introduce the magic and personalise it in the same breath. Sometimes people need another step to know this will work for them. This is when they ask: “Who else is using this? Are there others like me who is also doing this or trying this out?” This is essentially a question about the ‘tribe’ that I will be part of when I buy in to these tools, ideas or models. More on this in the next installment answering the question: Who is in this with me?

Breaking through personal resistance

Call on the Hero’s Character

Golden ring from The Lord of the Rings

Once people catch on to a new idea, a new way of viewing a problem reframed as a possibility (Introduction), they must be enrolled as the heroes who can make that possibility happen.

As soon as your people start dreaming about new possibilities their status quo is threatened. This automatically leads to at least five kinds of resistance. The first kind is personal resistance.  Your audience is asking: Why me? How is this relevant to me?

The most effective strategy to overcome this kind of resistance is to make an appeal on the prospective hero’s character as revealed in their core values. From this perspective, personal resistance often relates to moral objection and can be extremely hard to address, if you don’t do it on the values level.

Why does Horton save the tiny city on the clover?

In Dr. Seuss’s Horton hears a Who Horton, an elephant,  take up the dangerous opportunity of saving the tiny city on the clover. His motivation? Because Horton believes “a person’s a person no matter how small”. It is this belief that sets him apart from the other creatures in the story – interestingly underlined by the fact that he himself is the largest ‘person’ in the story. This belief not only gets Horton to commit to the adventure, but also pulls him through when it becomes difficult to continue.

Gandalf convinces Frodo in Tolkien’s ‘The Lord of the Rings’ to take on the treacherous journey to destroy the ring and save Middle Earth, by appealing to his Hobbit nature. It is because he is a Hobbit, that he can do it.

It is the ability of the guide or mentor to see the best in the hero that inspires the hero to take on the challenge. It is similarly the job of us as speakers and trainers to see the potential in our audience and view them as possessing the special qualities that will make them successful. In this way we begin to overcome personal resistance early on.

The teacher who looks at her class and sees difficult teenagers who would rather Mxit than learn, has a very hard time teaching them. Another teacher looks at the same group and sees teenagers desperate for something intriguing and worthwhile to learn.  She has a ball in class inspiring them to achieve new heights. She even uses Whatsapp in her learning strategy to help them internalise her teaching.

How do you enrole your audience as heroes?

Here are some examples we have used with success:

1. Name tags: At a youth conference we printed the designation ‘chosen one’ on the name tags worn by the audience identifying their roles as heroes with an important job.

2. Hand outs: with a vision and values alignment workshop we printed the handout in the form of a passport and enrolled the delegates as ‘ambassadors’ for the newly articulated vision and values statement…

3. Interactive devices: At a customer service training workshop of Spier Wine Farm, we asked the observing participants to be judges of apresentation enrolling them as the experts on customer service. We devised a tool whereby they could intervene and fix the service disasters we were presenting to them.

As we look over to our audience what do we see? People in need of our rescue or people endowed with exactly the right character and nature to make the change themselves?

Sure, you say, but what of those experiences where the resistance in the room and the skepticism is so thick you can cut it with a knife?

Here it may be helpful to remember that there are generally speaking two kinds of people in front of you: optimists and pessimists. Optimists are motivated by the dream of realising potential. When you paint the picture of possibility to them, they get motivated by that dream. These people are natural ‘yes and’ people. But there are also pessimists in the room, people who are motivated by the void. They see what is wrong, and what obstacles lie in wait. They get motivated by the idea of fixing the problem.

Once you have called the hero to action, you must open a space for people to air doubts and reservations. You can also allow some debate. If you don’t, the pessimists do not get a chance to see the obstacles and voice them, so they do not get motivated. You may experience this as negativity as a blocking ‘yes, but’ energy, but people do not have to be happy to be motivated to go on. As Adam Grant says in his article on The The positive power of negative thinking: “IF you want to sabotage a pessimist, make him happy’.

What is crucial, though, is not to think you have to answer the obstacle or show hoe to overcome it. Again, you will spoil the pessimist’s fun. All you need to do is create a space to hear the objections and validate them as being reasonable. The invitation here is for you to ‘yes and’ the objection, not ‘yes but’ it. If you block the objections, your audience will go into a threat response triggering the limbic system and then you have lost them. You can click here to read about strategies to help you work with doubts and reservations.

Being a wizard

In The Lord of the Rings Frodo gets very angry and resistant when Gandalf calls on his Hobbit nature as motivating ploy. But Gandalf does not try to argue with him, he listens patiently and then tells him a story about Bilbo that goes even deeper to the core of Frodo’s character. . The story talks about ‘the pity of Bilbo’ as a trait that could be the key to success. Frodo, who dearly loves his uncle and who is also Bilbo’s heir, understands the gravity of this idea that he had also inherited Bilbo’s nature as one who takes pity. He sees that he is the one to take up the challenge.

I must admit, I am seldom clever enough to take a doubt or reservation and turn it into a call on character – we are not all wizards. As long as you did not block the objections,  you can move on until you hit one of the other four types of resistance. Read the next installment dealing with relational resistance: “Why you? Why would you know how to help me?”