What is resistance in the workplace?
Very often I find the leaders I support assume resistance is happening because that’s what the person wants to do. “It’s just what they do.” I can’t deny that there are people who learn the rules of a work environment and find a way to “feed off” the system. They push the lines without getting fired but enough to cause disruption. There are very few of these people. Even a number of those individuals are so angry at a system that they believe has treated them poorly.
For education, I believe most people who join the profession did it to make a difference. A small percentage, in my opinion (meaning I have no hard data to support it), become educators for other reasons such as a need for income (ouch!), the illusion that they can teach while seeking other opportunities like becoming an author or an actor (scary!), and then maybe a couple of folks who follow the steps of family members or friends (did you notice how much they drank too?). Regardless, for those who desired to change the world, how did they become resisters or part of the problem?
I remember hiring a strong passionate young teacher. She was incredibly hardworking and truly wanted her students to be successful. Then one day, I can’t remember how long the transition took, but she fell into what I like to call “the dark side” as in the reference to Star Wars. She had the potential to be one of my Jedis. Instead, she became a vocal individual stalling initiatives and moving to a minimalist’s effort. Previously, I would remove her. But in this case, I could not point the finger at anyone else until I looked at how I was potentially responsible for causing this reversal of fortune.
Through a process of surveys, open forums, and/or one-on-one conversations, I learned my staff was frustrated with me. If one of the main reasons a couple divorces is a lack of communication (some would say financial stress, but I would urge you to consider that the stresses were caused by a lack of communication around finances), could that have been relevant at the workplace too? I learned it was.
A critical moment in the process was when my mentor urged me to stop and listen to my staff despite my inclination to resist (i.e. “it won’t make a difference.” or “I do listen!” etc…). I had to be vulnerable and willing to hear things I did not want to hear. When they started sharing, when they felt it was safe to share, the writing was on the wall.
In summary, I moved forward on initiatives that I gathered little input from my whole staff. In my eyes, I didn’t want to take up more of their time. They saw it differently. In addition, we were not aligned on what support looked like with those initiatives. I had support in place, but it was not what my staff needed. Finally, while I believed I had an open-door policy, people still did not speak honestly with me. When people do not feel heard, you can have as many office hours and open-door policies as you want, no one will take out the time to talk if they think it’s a waste of time. If people are not being honest with you, well…that’s just not a good place to be. Building a community is nearly impossible.
In the end, we need to get clear on the vision, get on the same page regarding what the key actions and metrics are to achieve that vision, and, most importantly, align on what support looks like to reach those expectations. Resistance is feedback. It’s not how I like to receive feedback, but it truly is an indication things are not going well. So if you are encountering resistance, then maybe it’s time to break out an anonymous survey with some questions that would share some key learnings to improve communication.