Why Handling Resistance is like Sharing Pie

It’s commonly said that the two most feared workplace situations are networking and presentations.  I wonder if most managers don’t anticipate something else with still greater trepidation: resistance.

Resistance is a constant feature of projects, change programmes, day-to-day negotiations, sales and even presentations.  Most people view it a sign of failure: failure to communicate, failure to manage stakeholders, failure to plan.

Resistance ≠ Failure

In fact, resistance is not a sign of failure: it is inevitable.  So we need a toolkit of techniques to deal with it (maybe in the form of a handy Pocketbook*).

One of may favourites is is rather like sharing a pizza, or a pie.


It’s Easier to Build Agreement upon Agreement

It’s a pretty thankless task trying to get agreement from someone who disagrees with you.  It is far easier to start from a base of agreement.

So start by splitting the problem up:

“You don’t agree with my conclusions: is it the findings you disagree with or the way I interpreted them?”

“The findings are fine.  Your analysis is wrong.”

“Okay, so we’re agreed on the findings.  Now, you don’t like my analysis: is it the methodology you disagree with, or the way I carried it out?”

“You worked through it fine,
but you should never have taken that approach.”

“Good, so let’s discuss what other approaches I could take.”

The Process is Straightforward

Continually try to divide the scope of your disagreement into two or three chunks and establish which chunk or chunks you can agree on.  What this does is build rapport – it shows both you and your resister what you have in common and gives you a shared base to work on your differences.

At the same time it demonstrates to your resister that their disagreement with you is not all-encompassing.

What if they say “I reject everything you say”?

It happens.  You ask:

“You don’t agree with my conclusions: is it the findings you disagree with or the way I interpreted them?”

and they answer:

“Both.  I disagree with your findings and
how you interpreted them.”

You the do the sensible thing and say:

“Okay, let’s look at my findings one by one and see which you agree with and which you do not.”

… and they soon let you know that they disagree with all of your findings.

We will set aside the question of whether or not there is a “hidden” objection buried here, and that they have a deeper, more fundamental concern and are hiding behind.  Let’s consider the scenario that they really do reject every scrap of what you present.

How can you find a Tiny Slice of Pie to Agree on?

My favourite slicing method is this:

“Well, we certainly do have very different perspective on this issue.  Can we at least agree that this is an important topic and set aside some time to work on it together?”

If they do agree, you have the start of agreement and a way to move forward.  If they do not agree, then they are saying that the matter is not important to them, and perhaps you can get permission to move forward with others.

The “so what?”

Rule 1 when dealing with resistance: stay respectful.  You will rarely face total disagreement.  Look for a start to an agreement and build out from there.

* A handy pocketbook on handling resistance?  What a coincidence.  Management Pocketbooks have  commissioned me to write The Handling Resistance Pocketbook, due out in autumn 2010.  In the meantime, The Management Models Pocketbook is available from all good booksellers.

For occasional tips and news of new titles, follow @ManaPocketbooks on Twitter.


3 thoughts on “Why Handling Resistance is like Sharing Pie

  1. Pingback: Don’t tell me what to do « Shift Happens!

  2. Pingback: Don’t tell me what to do « Handling Resistance

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