When you are faced with a change, what's your natural reaction? Do you tend to get on board 100% right away, only to find out later that you're not so happy with it? Do you look at the change and take on all the responsibility for making it happen? Do you do what you can to just lay low and not rock the boat? All of these are perfectly normal examples of resistance.
Resistance is normal behavior that is intended to slow down, block, or otherwise process a change. It's natural, and in many cases, a good thing -- if we didn't resist the person who said we should quit our jobs and run off to join the circus, we'd all be tightrope walkers.
Six Resistance Styles
We all respond to change differently, but there are six major identifiable styles of resistance. We each have a preferred style, but can use all the styles whenever they are called for. (They're overviewed in no particular order.)
This is swallowing the change whole, without taking the time to process it, digest it, chew on it, or come up with reasons why the change could be problematic. This is absolutely the right response in times of crisis -- the fireman tells you you need to leave a burning building, you swallow that change rapidly and follow his directions for leaving. You don't argue with the fireman, you don't question it, you just leave. When this style becomes problematic, however, is when you automatically jump on board with a complex change without giving it the due diligence it requires. Introjection may look like the desired response -- everyone's in agreement with the change -- but the disagreements and important analysis of the change usually only come after it's been implemented. Which can be costly.
This is making sure that everyone feels heard, understood, and valued as part of the change process. People who choose confluence in the face of a change highly value harmony. They make an effort to ensure that everyone is on board, and if not, they give dissenters an opportunity to air their grievances. This style is great when you've got a variety of stakeholders and you want to make sure everyone feels included. It becomes problematic, though, when it's used in a don't-rock-the-boat fashion and is just lip service. People who prefer confluence can sometimes be two-faced, showing one group of people a calm, agreeing-with-the-change facade while another group hears all the griping and grousing.
I call this one the "look, shiny!" style because it essentially distracts attention from the change at hand and focuses it anywhere else. Deflectors tend to be funny, quick, and entertaining. They know how to keep a discussion light and ease the tension that often accompanies a change. They use humor and are very creative, but sometimes this behavior enables others who don't want to face the challenges of the change to sweep the whole discussion under the rug. Unchecked, deflectors can completely derail a meeting -- or a series of meetings -- and cause change breakdown.
Projection is the style we most often associate with resistance. It's a blaming, finger-pointing style that, when done well, brings up the weaknesses, flaws, and loopholes in a change. This is definitely a style to use at the very first stages of a change, when these elements need to be brought up and addressed. Used poorly, however, this becomes your typical "it's not me, it's you" attack, and can lead to hurt feelings, lack of listening, and more strongly entrenched negative feelings about the change. Projectors have a tendency to overlook their own responsibility in change, focusing all their energy on others' shortcomings.
This is the opposite of Projection, in which, instead of pointing the finger at others, the resistor points the finger at him/herself. Used well, this is an incredible strength (not just because it's my own preferred style) because it encourages growth, ownership, and development of the resistor. "What's MY part?" Used badly, however, it leads one to take over a change, set impossible standards, and make it difficult for anyone else to participate in the change. It can be a "my way or the highway" mentality that implies that nobody else could make the change as well as the Retrojector, and is often accompanied by self-blame and self-punishment.
In this resistance style, the resistor just shuts down emotionally. He/she may smile, nod, and tell you what you want to hear, or simply tune out and stop paying attention to the change all together. Used well, this style can help to reduce the emotional charge in a situation, and can protect the resistor from unwanted negativity. Used badly, it leads to non-participation and daydreaming.
Do any of these sound familiar to you? Once you recognize your preferred style, the real work begins. When are you using your style to your advantage, and when are you using it to your detriment? Here's an example from my life: I was recently involved in a change in which a relationship was ending. As a Retrojector, I immediately looked at my responsibility in that change -- I was a little more intense than I needed to be, and I didn't pick up on a few crucial messages he was sending (among other things). But at the time, I didn't use Retroflection as a strength, I used it as a weapon. I blamed myself, called myself names, and vowed to work double-time to fix my shortcomings. Now that I know I'm a Retrojector, however, I see that I was overdoing it. That it wasn't all my fault, and that changing my personality wasn't going to fix everything. He had some responsibility in the change, too, and that I let him off the hook without including it.
Once you know your style, you can decide how deep you want to use it. Will you use it as a tool, or will you use it as a weapon? (For what it's worth, I recommend "tool.")
You can learn more about this from my incredible teacher, Pat Battle, of Pat Battle and Associates. In three short days, she changed my life.