Resistance, from protest to process
Resistance is a natural phenomenon. It is an emotional and spontaneous reaction against things that people perceive as potentially dangerous to them. Things, that people see as unwanted and which often relate to a fear for the unknown or a sense of being constrained in your freedom or your interests.
Resistance arises in that part of our brain (the amygdala) that primarily reacts to situations which, under the influence of adrenaline, impulsively make us want to fight or to flee, or to freeze.
While counselling individuals in their development, I often encounter resistance.
The challenge is to deal with resistance in a relaxed manner, and at the same time to ensure that the set objectives are achieved.
What is resistance, actually?
Resistance is often just a matter of people’s hesitation to accept a message communicated by their trainer or coach. Often it’s like a flag that indicates the presence of a sensitive issue. It is an automatic reaction and a form of protest, but it can also be a sign of self- protection as well as of involvement. Ignoring resistance can lead to cynicism and demotivation. The term resistance is used if the hesitation is not expressed verbally, but when all sorts of non-verbal signs and indirect statements communicate unwillingness or objection. These signals are the key to dealing with resistance successfully. As a coach, it is my job to encourage the other to express his or her objections and to explain why he or she has these objections. I use open questions to help the person identify the source of resistance. This also helps to clarify the reasons for maintaining this resistance.
What lies behind resistance?
- Insecurity about consequences
- Selective perception of the advantages and disadvantages
- Habits that must end but that are difficult to change
- Involuntary participation
- Finding it hard to ask for help
- Inner discord
Why is resistance natural?
People generally do not like change. Resistance and change go hand in hand. This may be bothersome, but certainly not undesirable.
Changes that we want to see happen usually do not happen of their own accord. Throughout the years we have developed a certain behaviour which we cannot simply change, however much we may wish to. To change is a process that requires time, effort, energy, creativity and a step-by-step approach. But if you accept the premise that an individual also seeks to balance change with stability, then it is clear that resistance simply follows naturally from any disruption of this equilibrium.
Dealing with resistance
Resistance is not a rational objection, but a feeling. For that reason, it doesn’t really help to tackle resistance with arguments, based on rational thinking. Instead, it requires a kind of communication that connects with the level of feelings and of relationships. It is often unclear for the individual concerned what the sensitive issues are, and he or she may need some time to think in order to put it into words. As a coach, I give you the time you need to respond, and I stimulate your self-inquiry by asking open questions. I listen to and reflect on your answers. The goal is to help you open up to change and to shake off the old and trusted pattern of behaviour.
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