The most dangerous kind of resistance

Lesson Learned #49

carpedia-lessons-learned-49One of the interesting things we’ve learned is that the manager who is initially the most outspoken opponent of starting a performance-improvement program often ends up its greatest champion. The reason for this seems to be that people who are overtly outspoken share their feelings and opinions fairly easily. You know what they think and where they stand. This allows you to uncover whatever concerns they have and work together to try to overcome them. If you are successful at addressing their issues, their open nature can lead them to become just as outspoken in support of the initiative. We refer to this as “active resistance.” It may seem a little threatening initially, and can derail initiatives if you don’t deal with it, but it’s fairly normal and it’s out in the open.

A more dangerous type of resistance is the flip side of active resistance – what we call “passive resistance.” Passive resistance is the resistance you get when managers (or employees) claim to support an initiative but don’t really want it to succeed and quietly undermine it. Managers who are passively resisting do very little to help correct the course when you encounter the inevitable obstacles common to change programs. They may even discuss deficiencies in the new way of doing things with their employees, which breeds dissatisfaction.

Passive resistance is not the same thing as what happens when people pay lip service to new initiatives because they don’t think they will last. (This can occur if an organization develops a “flavor of the month” approach to change programs.) These people don’t think a program will last, but they don’t try to intentionally derail it. Passive resistance is a little more sinister. Passive resistance has similar roots to active resistance. Both reflect a fairly natural concern that a change program will negatively affect the existing environment. However, passive resistance is difficult to ferret out. Because of this, you may never address the underlying concerns.