Dealing With a Resistant Individual


The great insight from social constructionism is that we are not independent isolates, our reality is constructed with others as a social phenomenon.

It can be very helpful to keep this in mind when you are dealing with people who are (or seem to be) resistant to change. In order to dissolve the resistance, it is necessary not for the other person to change, but for the relationship between you and the resistant person (or people) to change. In our socially constructed world, if you change your relationship with that person, their resistant attitude will also change. As you'll appreciate, this is quite different from the standard change rhetoric which advocates persuasive communication to change the other person's point of view.

Here's what to do. Invite the person to talk with you on neutral ground. Over a coffee away from the workplace is a good start. The purpose is to enter into what I call a 'joint inquiry' with the other person.

'Joint inquiry' means that you have a perspective on the situation, and you recognize that so does the other person. By raising the other person's perspective and by expressing your own, and being open to changing your own views, you will reach a new understanding of the situation, and with this shift in understanding coming a shift in the resistance.

Here is a four-point action plan for a 'joint inquiry' into the situation that will change the resistance of the other person.

1. Ask what their point of view is. Then summarize it back to them. If you have already heard their point of view previously, summarize your understanding of their point of view.

Lawyers and debaters often do this when they are rehearsing their arguments. The powerful key here for dissolving resistance to change is to express it in non-judicial and non-personal terms. Do not say "You do not support the improvement to the quality system because you are not a team player," or "you are not a team player." "You did not support the improvement to the quality system and I do not understand why not. Can you please tell me?" Then summarize back to them what they have said to you.

2. Ask the other person if you have understood the situation accurately from their point of view. Allow them to make any corrections they think are needed.

3. Given what you have heard, explain your (amended) point of view, again using non-judgmental language. Keep your explanations free of value sentences as much as possible. Point out aspects of how your view has similarities as well as differences.

4. Agree next steps — some specific actions that you will take, or something you are each committed to change in relation to each other. For example, "I will tell you if you do something that I do not agree with."

You may not need to go to step three, as steps one and two are so powerful.

Stephen Billing