What Does “No” Really Mean?

What do we do when we find ourselves engaging with an audience of “resisters”? Many leaders say they become resisters, too, essentially becoming resisters of the resisters.  They report that their emotions kick in right away, and visibly or invisibly, they react as if their good ideas are being summarily rebuked. They may feel that they have been rejected personally. Egos become ensnared, and stated or unstated conflict blossoms. Emotions are stirred, and the leader’s effectiveness is compromised.

So what should we do when we encounter resistance? One good option is to mentally review a model that Rick Mauer describes on his website and in the book, Beyond the Wall of Resistance.  Mauer talks about three levels of resistance:

  • “I don’t get it.” When people don’t understand something, they can demonstrate resistance in a variety of ways. They may hide their lack of comprehension or appear confused, angry, stubborn, or uninterested.
  • “I don’t like it.” People may understand a proposal quite well, but they don’t like it. As leaders, it is important to remember that when people don’t like what we want to do, it may be because our new way forward represents a threat or a loss to them.
  • “I don’t like you.” In this case, for whatever reason, the personal relationship between the leader and those resisting is damaged. There are many possible causes. Two options are that the leader has not listened or the other individuals think that the leader does not care about their viewpoints. 

How can we use this information to move through the resistance we’ve experienced?

  1. Breathe and resist the temptation to respond immediately. When we are in the action of leadership and we experience resistance, it is tempting to decide quickly what the resistance means and react immediately. But, if we can slow our responses down, even for a moment, we can consider what that “no” really means. Taking a moment to reflect gives us more options than reacting with a knee-jerk response that is off-target.
  2. Resistance provides us with important feedback. We are wise to pay attention to     resistance and the message it contains. If it’s off base, does it contain even a kernel of truth? 
  3. Resistance has many faces. Confusion, denial, sabotage, soliciting the support of    others who sympathize, engaging in passive-aggressive behavior, needing more and more information—all these are potential symptoms of resistance.
  4. We can correctly diagnose the type of resistance we are experiencing. Do people really need more information? What if they have enough information to know that they don’t like our “solution” because they don’t perceive its value or relevance?
  5. There are nearly always (at least) two sets of needs operating: theirs and ours. As a leader, we may need to re-craft our messages and approach to directly and honestly address the needs and concerns of others.

Portions of this article originally appeared in Nurse Leader.

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