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Why is nothing happening again???

Some time ago, I worked with a colleague on a healthcare team. Despite the best efforts of the manager and the agreements made, nothing led to any significant changes. Slowly and subtly, resistance had wormed its way into the team.

Resistance is a phenomenon that can drive you to despair. “How on earth is this possible? We’ve tried everything, made all sorts of agreements. And yet, nothing happens. NOTHING!”

Overt and Covert Resistance

There are two types of resistance: overt and covert resistance. With overt resistance, there is an idea to which the team or parts of it say, “No, that’s a bad plan because…”. This resistance is audible and open. You can discuss it, exchange arguments, create a new plan that works and then it may simply work.

What can also happen is that something new arises to which everyone openly says “yes”, yet nothing or nothing substantial seems to happen. This invisible and often unconscious resistance, where there is sometimes a will, desire or wish to do something on one side and nothing happening on the other, is a tough nut to crack.

What Now?

The manager can go back to work hard to fix this, reinitiate the conversation – or confrontation – stand firm, argue, and reaffirm the agreements made. Hard work in the foreground. But the effect might be very minimal, or even zero or negative. An alternative worth considering in such a situation is to ask yourself what the resistance, the stubborn resistance, is trying to do, trying to tell. It might not be easy, but it could be very effective. It requires the manager to be willing to genuinely understand the team members.

In that invisible resistance, there is often a deep connection or loyalty or a deep love for something. In expressing the resistance, what is the non-action trying to protect? What might be lost if there were no resistance? What is in the non-action that is too valuable to give up?

Resistance often also contains judgments. About something or someone, about a concept. And judgments have a function. What is the judgment trying to do, to protect? Or with whom or what is the person who holds the judgment connected, in having that judgment?

If you ask these questions to a team, the resistance is firstly acknowledged. And this might be a movement that has not occurred before. Acknowledgment is one of the most important interventions you can make. By the way, acknowledging does not necessarily mean agreeing. That’s a misconception.

I asked the team if anything resonated with them in the questions above. The answer was yes. “And if so, are you willing to listen to the other with the intent to truly understand them? And are you willing to acknowledge and give voice to your potential judgments, resistance, and what it is trying to do?”

The answer was yes again. By discussing it this way, a small, new opening was created. A space for something together, instead of against. For the person guiding this process, it requires the ability to bear and create space where things can be said.

At the end of these discussions, I revisited the power of patterns and loyalties. These are very strong. And it is possible that the team and each member can sometimes get caught up in them again. But hey, if you can look at yourself and each other with kind eyes and a smile, you can move forward again.

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