Pull Vs. Push: Facilitator Reactions to Resistance

November 1, 2016 3:10 pm

At our Facilitating Through Conflict workshop last week, the class really embraced my suggested approach when dealing with resistance. We see resistance when new processes are suggested, old ways of thinking are being challenged, or staff are being challenged to innovate or take risks. Regardless of why people resist, being able to identify resistance and deal with it effectively can improve group productivity and engagement. So what is resistance?

re·sist·ance (noun)/ri’zistens

  • The refusal to accept or comply with something; the attempt to prevent something by action [or lack of action] or argument.
  • A force that slows down another force

Despite everything that meeting facilitators do to prevent resistance – like setting meeting norms – we all find ourselves occasionally confronted by resistance. How do you know when you’re faced with resistance in a meeting? It can look like any of these participant behaviours:

  1. Lack of accountability
  2. Changing the subject
  3. One word or short phrase responses
  4. Excessive questioning (picture a teenager)
  5. Rambling on in detail
  6. Over-compliance (“sure, whatever you say…”)
  7. Silence or no responses
  8. Low energy, distraction, inattentiveness

When resistance pops up during a meeting, it can feel like a personal failure to the facilitator, like we haven’t done our jobs getting meeting participants onboard. These feelings can result in the facilitator trying to sell the agenda item or idea to the person in resistance. Let’s look at a resistance meeting scenario and two possible facilitator responses.

Resistance Scenario: You’re developing an action plan to complete an initiative the whole team agreed to last meeting. You get to a specific action and a team member asks: I don’t see why any of us needs to communicate with stakeholders. Shouldn’t this be the sponsor’s role?

Inappropriate Response (Pushing): Last week you all agreed that, given your team’s full empowerment to implement the initiative, we should develop this action plan. We’ve done some great work here today, so let’s regroup and focus on our task at hand.

Appropriate Response (Pulling):

  1. Allow Resistor to Vent (listen and question): I’m not sure I understand, can you tell me more?
  2. Name the Resistance: So I’m hearing our team members don’t need to be a part of the stakeholder communication process, is that right?
    • Empathize: I see what you mean… or: I’m sure I’d feel the same way if… or: I don’t blame you for feeling that way… etc.”
    • Paraphrase to clarify understanding: Let me see if I’ve got this straight… or: So, the idea you’re proposing is…etc.
    • Stay neutral in body language and tone
  3. Eliminate or Minimize the Reservation: What would need to change for you to communicate with stakeholders? Or (depending on what the venting step uncovered): Under what circumstances or with what assurances will you consider completing the action plan today?

So why do we call these two responses to resistance “pushing” and “pulling”? When we try to defend or sell an agenda item or idea, we’re pushing against the resistance, causing further tension instead of resolving the issue. When we pull participants through their resistance, we help them solve their own issue in a way they’ve chosen themselves.

How Pulling Helps the Participant in Resistance

  • The resistor feels heard
  • S/he gains the satisfaction of solving the issue

How Pulling Helps the Facilitator

  • You leave the responsibility with the resistor to solve his/her own issue instead of taking it on yourself
  • You help build capacity within the group
  • You demonstrate a key facilitator competency (enabling the group rather than dictating outcomes)

So the next time you’re faced with resistance, try pulling the resistor through the resistance instead of pushing back. Let us know how it goes.  Share your stories or questions by emailing info@facilitationfirst.com

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