Five types of resistance and how to break through

James and the Giant Peach

Introduction:  Paint a picture of the possibility

What made James in ‘James and the Giant Peach’ climb inside a giant peach, befriend life size bugs and steer across an ocean to go to New York? What made Cinderella get out of the ashes and off to the Prince’s ball? What made the frog turn into a prince?

The answer to all these questions is the same: they believed that it was possible. OF course, none of them started out believing it, they all needed someone to paint them a picture of the possibility. James lost hope when his cruel aunts destroyed the picture his deceased father had given him showing the big vibrant city of New York.  This dream needed reviving by the peculiar little man with the shiny green things. Cinderella was shattered and crying in the ashes when the Fairy Godmother found her. As for the frog: it was the arrival of the princess that sparked his hope.

Before the dream was planted, there was no resistance to change, only stuckness and possibly despair, or maybe just ignorance of what is possible. Yet, once a dream is planted, one type of resistance after another pops up to frustrate both the dreamer and the dream giver, the hero of the story and the story weaver, both you and your client.

Do you have a dream for your people?

Any dream will inspire some people immediately, but as they try to realise it, they will hit obstacles. Some of these obstacles are personal, some are relational, practical or social. Others are just nasty interruptions from outside.

On the other hand, some of the people you want to influence may be skeptical from the outset, seeing all the problems that might occur and anticipating (or inventing) problems that may never happen.

Either way, there are 5 types of resistance. In stories these five types often follow a similar sequence in which they occur. Here they are in the most common sequence.

1. Personal Resistance – Why me? How is this relevant to me?

2. Relational Resistance – Why you? Why would you know how to help me?

3. Social Resistance – Who is in this with me? Do I belong with them and they with me?

4.  Practical Resistance – How is this going to work? What is the process and the strategy?

5. Cosmic Resistance – What happens when things don’t work out as planned? If it or I fail?

Each type of resistance corresponds with a certain kind of information that your people need in order for them to come with you. Over the next few posts I will share these with you one by one and give suggestions on how you can overcome them. I will offer practical tools that you can try out or adapt as you like.

What makes break through possible?

Without a proper dream, you may not even encounter resistance because your invitation is not different enough from the status quo. Too often that French proverb comes true that says: The more things change, the more they stay the same. That is because no true shift was made and true break through never occurred.

The term ‘break through’ only makes sense in the context of resistance. Without resistance, there is no break through needed and no real change occurs. What makes break through possible is the fact of resistance itself – resistance that arises because the Call to Adventure that you issue is so different from the Current Reality that people experience.

What does a proper dream look like?

It takes the form of a Visionary Goal, not a SMART goal.

A Visionary Goal is one that paints a picture of a possibility that seems unrealistic and that no-one in the room really knows how it can be reached. This is in contrast to so called ‘SMART’ goals which are Specific, measurable, actionable, Realistic and Time oriented. A visionary goal can be specific and measurable and it may even have a target date for completion, but it is not realistic and few people can see how to make it happen.

An example of such a dream is the Volkswagen (VW) visionary goal of 1, 10, 100 by 2010. They wanted to be first in the country on customer service, among the top ten in terms of local quality and make a turnover of 100 million (I am going on memory here, let me know if I have it wrong). In her talk at the Knowledge Resources Organisational Development Conference earlier in 2014, Joan Peters, Leadership Development Manager at Volksvagen explained how few people in the organisation thought reaching this dream was possible, and yet they were mobilised into action and managed to achieve it.

Even though visionary goals do not seem realistic or actionable, they inspire action by releasing positive energy in the brain. The brain loves to dream and follow visionary goals..

Why does the brain like to dream?

The brain loves to dream because of the effect expectation of reward has on its chemistry. Dreaming inspires hope. Hope is an expectation of something positive being fulfilled in the future. This expectation of reward releases dopamine into your brain, the same stuff that gets released when you laugh and exercise.

What is extra interesting here, says Dr. Ward Plunet, is that studies show people with higher status is more prone to hope in relation to people in lower status positions. This is because they have more hope of getting the pick of the crop in terms of food, shelter and sexual partners. A sense that you have power to choose adds to the feeling of autonomy and certainty that you will not go hungry, cold or deprived.

This means that the more people think they have control, the more they are likely to take action on your invitation, but the more they feel dis-empowered, the more they will block your enthusiasm. This ‘blocking’ of ideas can be termed a ‘yes, but’ energy. It stands in stark contrast to a ‘yes, and’ energy that accepts new ideas and builds on them.

As we explore the five types of resistance and how to overcome them, both neuro-science and the ‘yes and’ principle will be our conversation partners.

What do I need to do?

As guide and mentor the first step in breaking through resistance is to paint a picture of the possibility so that they can ‘feel the pain’ of not being there yet and begin to yearn for change. Your first job is to ask ‘What if…” What if a neglected orphan  could go to New York in a giant peach What if a lowly Cinderella could dance with the royal heir?  What if a frog could be a prince?

What if you understood the five types of resistance and get Cinderellas and frogs to change their own fates?

The next instalment will look at the first type of resistance, Personal Resistance, and how you can increase your people’s sense of autonomy and move them to say ‘yes and’.

Watch this space for the next instalment of using SNE (Strategic Narrative Embodiment) to break through five tyes of resistence…

Dr. Petro Janse van Vuuren

Professional Facilitator, Coach  and Story Strategist

Leave a Reply

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