Embrace Resistance = Opportunity

As human beings we have a natural tendency to resist change. Such resistance can be demonstrated in a number of different ways, from minor disagreements among colleagues to arguments in a boardroom.

Each of us indeed can get a sense of certainty about something we know or do and ownership of a particular position – be it at home or in the office. We are primed to defend such positions and will readily push back on any resistance along the way. But what are we missing when we effectively “resist the resistance?”

Often we forget that each of us brings with us a reality based on our own experiences, our own knowledge and our own professional perspective. We all live in a “reality” that is almost invariably different than the realities of others. In Gestalt Coaching, those differences between individuals are appropriately called “Multiple Realities.” Understanding the realities of others is difficult, because it often means carefully exploring resistance through what we call “appreciative inquiry” and continued curiosity.

It’s a matter of exploration, not pushback. Embarking on such a journey is hard work. And it is ultimately one of the most rewarding things we can do as human beings, for with it comes the idea of contact between two individuals, which aligns them in a shared reality that can produce wondrous results for both our personal and professional lives.

To do it takes practice and commitment and involves asking questions and being curious, rather than making stands and holding positions. Words like “you don’t understand” or “This is how it is” can be replaced in a powerful and meaningful way with questions like “I’m curious about what you’re feeling – can you tell me more about it?” or “What is your perspective on the issue?” It’s a different approach that comes easily to some; practice and more practice for others.

While coaching a client one day, he told me about a co-worker who was particularly annoying to everyone on the team. The man seemed to always disagree with a new position and was seen as someone who would try to derail new ideas in an instant. No one, he said, seemed to like dealing with this individual.

We spent some time exploring my client’s feelings about the colleague. “What is it that bothers you about him?” I asked. “He seems angry and he dismisses an idea before I ever get to present it,” the client answered. “Tell me about some of his ideas,” I said. The client thought for a long moment and said, “Well, he has some good ideas, but they get lost in his anger.”

I pressed with my questioning, because I was curious as to how the client had explored the colleague’s ideas, as well as his anger. “How had he tried to understood the anger?” “How did the colleague react when asked about his ideas?” “How had he explored the man’s feelings?” The client, by now working on a new awareness, said, “To be honest, he just gets me so upset I don’t want to deal with him.”

I threw out a thought. “What would happen if you embrace the resistance you’re feeling – to be curious about it – to learn his reality?”

A long pause ensued. I let it linger. The client was quiet.

Then the answer, “Well, if I embrace that resistance, there might be opportunity.”

From that first step of awareness, the client became aware of the concept of multiple realities and the power of curiosity and appreciative inquiry. He built on that awareness with an action plan to spend more time with the colleague and to specifically not defend his own position – rather, he said, he would find out more about the thoughts – and feelings – of the other. He suspected it would be a long road, but he was excited to embark on the journey.

He sent me a three-word email in bold letters that afternoon which read:

Embrace Resistance = Opportunity

I later learned that he had embraced the man’s resistance and explored it with his colleague. He had learned much and he had come to a new awareness of a brilliance that had been hidden – for many reasons. The view had indeed been worth the climb for my client!

Someone once told me life isn’t about winning – it’s about learning. One of my teachers, Mary Anne Walk, often tells her clients, colleagues and students, “Life is about learning.” What better way to pursuing that learning than to embrace resistance and open up new realities and opportunities in the process?