“I’m so frustrated,” Nicole recently shared. “I was hired to usher in change . . . and no one is interested in changing. In fact, they all seem dead set against it,” she said, irritated.
“Even my manager – the one who hired me – ‘to bring the change we so desperately need’ is resistant to change,” she continued. “What gives?”
“Tell me,” I replied “what you think of when you hear the word resistant? What image comes to mind?”
Nicole thought briefly. “A brick wall. There’s no way through it, no way around it. Impenetrable.”
“Excellent,” I replied.
“Excellent? How is that excellent?” Nicole retorted, now exasperated with me!
“Well, it gives us a great place to from which to begin to reframe. You see, when something is as impenetrable as you described, it feels impossible. And your efforts are bound to reflect that, often in very subtle ways. If you think it’s impossible, then guess what – it is.”
Nicole gave a slight nod of agreement.
“So let’s shift how you’re approaching their reaction to your change efforts. What if, instead of resistant, they were reluctant? What image comes to mind when you think of reluctance?”
“Hmm,” Nicole thought. “Unwilling to do something, probably with some reasons, and maybe a little fearful even. I think about my daughter’s reluctance to ride a rollercoaster. When she musters up the courage to get on, she loves it. But standing there, watching it and waiting for her turn, she is VERY reluctant.”
“Exactly! What if you shifted how you saw your colleagues’ reaction to change? What if you saw it as reluctance rather than resistance?” I asked.
“Well, I guess they have reasons for not wanting to change. They might be afraid, they might be nervous. They are comfortable with how they do things now – even if they aren’t getting the results they want.”
I nodded my agreement and asked, “What image comes to mind when you think of reluctance?”
“I see a door in that brick wall. It’s not open,” Nicole laughed, “but at least there’s an opening. There’s a way in.”
As Nicole realized, people’s comfort with uncertainty varies widely. Their reaction to change reflects that level of comfort (or discomfort). When we position others as resistant, resistance is exactly what we can expect to get from them. When we reframe that to reluctance, we see that there may be some reasons, rationale, and maybe even some fear that is standing between them and change.
Reluctance is something we can work with. We can be far more understanding, compassionate even, when we examine the reasons, the rationale and the fear the other person is experiencing. It gives us new access to explaining the change and ushering in the change in a way that addresses those reasons, rationale and yes, even fear.
The next time you are ushering in change, take a moment to reframe any resistance you meet as reluctance.