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I’m an Agilist, a former software engineer, a gamer, an improviser, a podcaster emeritus, and a wine lover. Learn more.

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Sunday
Apr082018

Sometimes I'm a Slow Learner

Someone once asked me how I deal with resistance to change in an organization. My reply was “I don’t find resistance to change to be a problem. It wasn’t until much later that it dawned on me that I handle resistance to change by not seeing it as a problem. Instead I see resistance as a carrier providing information about a person’s thinking process, and I use it as an opening for more dialogue.

Norman Kerth, Project Retrospectives

I read Norm’s book perhaps a decade ago, and I’ve spent at least that long learning from Esther Derby and others about fostering change in a congruent manner. And yet I have struggled for that entire time to consistently put into action this simple idea: It is incredibly useful to greet resistance with curiosity rather than disagreement.

Something, however, seems to have flipped for me during the last few months, and I find myself doing this more and more. I suspect it’s because the project I’m heading up at work is taking a moderately radical approach to tackling long-standing issues, which means that I’m frequently encountering episodes of resistance. Something probably triggered my curiousity in some of the initial conversations, which meant that I was listening instead of arguing. That helped me learn about potential implications of the approach which I hadn’t considered, which then allowed me to make more robust plans to address those potential problems. And because my brain saw a positive result from getting curious about sources of resistance, it reinforced that behavior.

I suppose the lesson here is that if I wanted to build the habit of treating resistance to change as a source of information, I should have generated a bunch of resistance a long time ago.

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