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Be a transformational change agent: four levels in managing resistance (Part 1)

Human beings are naturally and determinedly resistant to change. We all know what we think; we make our own decisions; we control our own destiny, at least to a point. If anyone tries to change your mind, you are ready to defend and resist. Only the most sophisticated attempts to influence are likely to be successful. In HR and in management generally you are trying to guide and coach people to move to a new level or a new way.

In our experience this resistance is never so present as when faced with a bunch of opinions and requests in a 360° feedback report. But to get value from a 360° experience, this resistance needs to be managed with finesse. Experience with thousands of 360°s has enabled us to develop a magical staged technique that ensures the resistance disappears. This is our masterful four-level technique, described in my book “360 Degree Feedback: A Transformational Approach” and to be published in a four-part article series.

This staged approach to unpicking resistance can be used in giving coaching or feedback of any kind and can also be useful in day-to-day dealings with people. If you want to be a sophisticated influencer and change agent then take note and give it a go.

[Excerpt from Chapter 7] “This is not a straightforward sequential process like the “Ti 360 Discovery Method” ie first you do this, then you this and then you do the other, this is an order of seriousness or level of intervention ie first try this, try this a few times – if that does not work then try the next level, if that does not produce results then go up a level etc. If someone is extremely resistant you may go through these levels very fast and reach the highest level within minutes. Most people are likely to require Level 1 and 2 interventions only, repeatedly and mixed up as you go through and you never need to reach Level 4. Only the hard core few get that far.

Let’s start with Level 1 – the common coaching position of exploration – the level you may hope you never have to leave.

LEVEL 1
Listening, making safe and deep questioning

Acute, deep listening makes a difference. This is where you reflect back what you are hearing and feeling. You summarise what has been said. You bring things already said earlier in the session into a particular conversation. Listen with all your power and all your body. The participant may be saying “That’s ok, I can see where that data has come from” but you may feel a deep sadness and on reflection you can hear there is a sadness and sense of resignation being expressed. How you respond to this will depend on your own training and confidence but your own acknowledgement will make a difference even if you do nothing obvious at this stage accept giving them the space to feel this.

This is place for acknowledgement, confirming your own experience of them, questioning what you see and hear. You need to be fully present and ok while this is going on so that this will be what you give them – a sense that it is ok to feel and think whatever they are experiencing.

LINDAHL, K. (2001) The sacred art of listening: Forty reflections for cultivating a spiritual practice, SkyLight Paths Publishing.

EXAMPLE

In a Scottish aeronautic manufacturer a senior manager was looking at his 360 degree feedback for the first time (this was before I worked out I needed to send the 360 report 48 hours before) and was not happy. He started a little anxious and as he worked through the data he became frustrated then rather rapidly, very angry. He was gone. He was not hearing any of my questions or comments aiming to calm him. I was tense and at quite a loss- anxious myself.

I then took space and deliberately calmed my breathing. I unlocked my legs (which I had discovered were tightly wound round each other like only long skinny legs can do), lowered my shoulders and lent forward a little. Within minutes I noticed he started to do exactly the same. He relaxed, started breathing and calmed. After what felt like a long time (maybe only a few minutes), he spoke. I can’t remember what it was but I am pretty sure it was rude. I responded with a gentle clear “Yes” and soon he turned back to me and we talked properly again.

This extreme example shows the power you have as a committed listener and reflector. It may seem like you are just a passive mirror but any mirror has an action and a potential reaction. You can also be a very active mirror. There are some fundamental principles underlying this approach – first there is the belief in the power of reflection and there is also the principle of individuals responding in a social context combined with the transformational principle of giving choice and freedom to individuals, allowing them to be and to feel as they do and supporting them in choosing how to move forward.

You do not need to worry about these principles too much but, at this level, you do need to concentrate on being present and focus on your questions and your statements very carefully. Your primary job at this level though is to make it safe for them so let’s cover this and then explore what you need to do and say in more detail.

EIKENBERRY, K. (2011) Remarkable leadership: Unleashing your leadership potential one skill at a time, John Wiley & Sons.

WATZLAWICK, P., WEAKLAND, J. H. & FISCH, R. (1974) Change: Principles of problem formation and problem resolution, WW Norton.

MCLEAN, A. & POWER, K. 2006. Advocating some theory – framing Bateson. In: CRITCHLEY, B., HIGGINS, J. & KING, K. (eds.) Organisational consulting – a relational perspective: theories and stories from the field, London, Middlesex University Press.

Making it safe

Your participant will only be able to move forward if they feel safe and comfortable. As per the SCARF[i] needs highlighted through neuroscience, if they are feeling like their status is undermined, things are not fair etc then they will be led by their unconscious primal functions. So first you need to bring them back into the world of safety and conscious intellect. There is no one way to do this but the key technique is to discover or guess what their main concern is and to handle this. If you focus on their privacy and control then this will usually resolve most of these needs, whatever the leading ones are:

ROCK, D. (2008). SCARF: a brain-based model for collaborating with and influencing others, NeuroLeadership Journal, 1, 44-52.

EXAMPLE

A senior executive in a City firm was looking at his 360 degree feedback for the first time (in this case because he had not found it in his inbox and had been confident enough not to be bothered). His data was shockingly bad – even to him. He reacted with a tense silence and said how mortified he was. I pointed out that this data was his and no-one else in the company had had sight of it and that it was now up to him what he did and who he showed it to. He relaxed and we could then continue to talk sensibly about what had happened and what his options were. Fear of loss of face was clearly primary for him and once he knew he had control, he took control.

If you struggle to make it safe for them then ask specifically what would make it comfortable for them to discuss this, ask them directly what they are most worried about. There is another principle at play here which is to deal with the uppermost issue, the one that is currently on the surface and exposed. You may think they really ought to deal with their arrogance as it is clearly the big issue, but if they are bothered about their team not liking them then actually that is what is to be dealt with.

How do you know you have managed to ensure they feel safe? They will be relaxed and they will be giving you eye contact and they will be present.

One approach is to review the “layers” presented – one of the methodologies described by Ian Watson: WATSON, I. (1991) A Guide to the Methodologies of Homeopathy, Miller Turner Printers Ltd, Cumbria.

Deep questions

Once they feel safe you can question and encourage them to explore. Here are some of the most powerful questions you can use at this level:

  1. What do you think is going on here?
  2. Why do you think he/she/they have this view?
  3. What do they see of this?
  4. Why might their views differ?
  5. Who is likely to be the best judge of this?
  6. What are the reviewers trying to tell you do you think?
  7. What do you see as the main message here?
  8. How might this data link to earlier data? Might there be a connection?
  9. How do you feel about this data?
  10. What conclusions do you draw from this data?

There are “powerful questions instead of powerful answers” and “what leads to real change is not action plans, but some combination of courage and freewill on the part of the client” BLOCK, P. (1999) Flawless Consulting: A Guide ro Getting Your Expertise Used, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.

Notice that you are inviting them to consider, you do not know. The critical piece you can offer your participants is a curiosity and an unknowingness. That will invite them to truly explore and be curious themselves. You are positioning them as the master of their own data yet you are challenging them. If you are someone who needs to “know” and have certainty about things then this may take something. You need to let go that you know what the data is saying and then paradoxically, you and your participant will emerge knowing eventually.

You are aiming to have them stop and think, to see the data properly and fully and to consider and feel the impact. This is the river of transformation. So, listening and questioning may be all you need to do to have them really “get” their feedback but you may need to go to Level 2”, described in our next article.

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