Is it Resistance? Maybe Not…


What's going on in your mind?

I had a very interesting experience with resistance this morning.  It reminded me that we should value resistance.  Yes, value it.

Within the world of change management, organizational change, organizational development, (the list goes on), resistance is often seen as something negative.  Something that you need to manage or overcome.  

However, if you step back from the existence of resistance and seek to discover the root cause, you might uncover some very interesting things.  I did.  

Resistance can be expressed across multiple dimensions.  It is something that you might experience on a mental level – through self-discussions.  It might be something that you feel emotionally – possibly raising your anxiety level.  It might be something expressed at a physical or gut level – perhaps you felt your muscles contract.  Your conscious mind is only a minor fraction of the processing that is going on within our bodies. The reactions you feel or sense are typically based on much more than what you are consciously aware of.

The Backstory

If you’ve been reading my writing for a while you may remember me talking about a great group of people that I met through Linked In. People who I met on-line that I feel have moved from the peer/colleague category to the friend category. I wrote about them in my article, Penguin Leadership: Alone in a Crowd.

The group grew organically, without any intention for it to become what it has: a sounding board, a shoulder to lean on, a group of friends to vent with, and a group to push boundaries of thinking with. We’ve never met in person – our locations range from California to Canada to Belgium. Side Note: at this point, there are six of us in the group (Bill Braun has joined us since the article was written).

The Event

This morning a request came to add another person to our group (one might say clique but that can sound negative). I had a very visceral reaction that said “I’m not sure I like that idea.” I stepped back from my computer for a bit but the feeling still hung on. So I shared my reaction – that I wasn’t sure and needed to think about this.

Given that I’m a fairly open and friendly person, my gut reaction startled me. In part, because it was so strong.  I even made a joke to the group about whether I was experiencing “change resistance.”

I forced myself to step back and analyze why I was feeling the way I was. What I discovered was that my strong reaction came from the value I placed on my interactions with this group. My fear was that adding a new individual would trigger changes in the style of interactions. Hum, time for me to dig a bit deeper.

Digging Down to the Roots

I realized that in many ways, this group has evolved from a peer group to a support + peer group. Many days this past month I would put that support has been predominant.

I believe that our Penguin Club members “get me”. They get my thinking process. They value my opinions. They seek to not just listen but to hear what I am trying to say. I can be candid, open, honest, direct, and fraught with human frailties in a safe and supportive place. How often can you say that? It’s something not to be undervalued.

I have a high level of trust from the group members. Unfortunately today, trust is a fairly rare commodity. But that’s a story for another day.

In the insanity of life that we live in these days, the value of these types of relationships should not be underestimated. They should be treasured. How many friends and colleagues out there can you say this about?

As this group grew organically, we had no defined objectives or governance structures. We simply threw out questions to the group, sought second opinions, and discussed concepts that interested us.  This morning’s experience was a fascinating study (at least to me) in group dynamics. How different the informal evolution can be from the formal structures we often engage in.

During our flurry of emails this morning we are starting to unpack what it is we want and value from this group.  It’s not always the same. 

Have we made a decision about adding to our Penguin Club, no.  Have the emails been flying fast and furious, yes.  I actually glad that we are not making the decision lightly. 

The Potential Impacts

I do believe that if there was a brand new group member, the nature of what we were shared this morning would be different.  I don’t think we would have been as open and honest about thoughts and gut reactions. 

Do I think we should avoid adding someone new to keep the status quo?  Not necessarily.  What I do want to ensure is that we as a group are aware of the potential cost and make an effort to move through the transition in a way that is comfortable for everyone.

I can say that this experience has been an interesting study in Group Dynamics, Social Networking, and Trust.  It’s a microcosm of events that happen at work and in social settings each and every day.

The lessons for me today are twofold:  TRUST yourself and HONOR your feelings of resistance.  You are feeling them for some reason.  Stop and ask yourself about the root causes.  You might just discover something interesting.  I did.  

I gained insight into myself, my wants and desires of the group, and the level of trust I was feeling for the individuals in the group.  I also learned how very important this group of people was to me.  Our interactions and discussion are precious and should be treated as such.  

That was the root of my resistance.  It had absolutely nothing to do about the potential new person and everything to do with my connection to the existing.  It was less about resistance and more about personal value.

In Conclusion…

How might this experience translate into your personal life, your work, your social interactions, or the business environment? 

Do you stop and think “why” when you have a negative reaction?  Do you explore the roots of your feelings and feelings of resistance?  Do you trust your feelings, impressions, and instincts?  How do you honor them?

Rather than just believing that resistance is something to be overcome, make the effort to understand its root cause(s).  Both within yourself and within others.  Honor it; don’t just focus on overcoming it.  Value other individual’s emotional and physical reactions as well as your own.  They are just as big a part of who the person is as the intellectual ones. 

My perception is that we often forget this; that we do not value enough the underlying subconscious processing that our minds and bodies are doing.  We need to remember the whole of ourselves, not just the individual parts.

Each part of yourself should be valued; your thoughts, your emotions, your physical reactions, as well as your spiritual needs.  When you feel resistance, unpack it a bit.  Explore its roots.  You just might find out something about yourself you didn’t expect. 

In the end, you might also find you make a different choice.


  1. Faith,
    In this particular exchange with our group, just like a lot of change management/corporate initiatives a change was suggested without any view of an end state.

    The initial responses and process?
    React to what this might mean.

    That either reaffirms a view of change that has to do with resistance fighting first OR reaffirms my view that most change is not thought out in order to make sense.

    The NON-resistance fighting approach, call it “makes sense” change moves things forward for a reason.

    In our own lives maybe we should first define possible end states when change seems inevitable and then, permission granted, we can resist and discover why.

  2. […] noted in the prior article, Is it Resistance…  Maybe Not, it’s important to dig down into the roots of your reactions.  Often times you will find […]

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