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?”








Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *