When we notice resistance, a typical response is to try persuading them out of their resistance. But that approach often causes more resistance, as they defend against our pushing. When we want to overcome resistance, there’s a better way.
Startup entrepreneur Andrew Warner was conducting an interview of one his heroes, Basecamp founder Jason Fried. He wanted Fried to discuss how he deals with setbacks, something Warner knew his audience would care about.
Warner asked Fried, “Did you have any setbacks setting up Basecamp?”
Fried replied, “No. Sometimes things just work out.”
Warner pressed him: “Come on. Everyone has setbacks, everyone has challenges.”
Fried wouldn’t bite. “Andrew, sometimes things just work out in life.”
Warner’s heart sunk. He thought to himself, “I failed.”
Joining the resistance
Warner’s failure to get Fried to talk about setbacks ate at him enough that he hired a producer to teach him how to get his guests to open up. The producer told him,
My therapist says that when she talks to a client, and the client is putting up resistance, instead of saying, ‘Come on, you have to,’ and fighting the resistance, my therapist will join the resistance. When you do, people will just let down their arms and they start to cooperate
…Instead of saying, ‘Come on Jason, everyone has setbacks,’ you should have joined the resistance. You should have said, ‘Oh, it’s interesting, Jason, that you had no setbacks, that this thing was really easy. Sometimes companies have just an easy path and it’s nice that it was easy for you to set up Basecamp.’ [source]
Warner identifies “join the resistance” as one of the most important interview techniques he’s learned.
Good news for us: It’s useful beyond interviewing.
The typical response to overcome resistance
When we notice resistance, a typical response is to try persuading someone out of their resistance. We think that we can talk them into cooperating or agreeing with us; that cajoling will magically cause them to see it our way.
The typical approach to overcome resistance ends up looking something like this:
That approach almost guarantees even more resistance, as Warner experienced. Resistance can be understood not necessarily as an act of inflexibility or stubborn defiance, but as a natural defense against being pushed, softly manipulated, or harshly judged.
An alternative way to respond to resistance
In conflict, organizational change conversations, negotiations, and other difficult conversations, a better approach is to stop pushing and start being interested in the resistance — in Warner’s words, to join the resistance:
Joining the resistance is primarily a negotiation we have with ourselves, a decision to set aside what doesn’t work very well and try something different.
To make it work, we’ve got to commit to the idea, at least for a little while. We can’t fight the resistance and join it at the same time.
Join the resistance without being manipulative
And to make it work in conflict situations, we can’t just apply a technique and hope they won’t notice they’re being techniqued. They will.
We’ve got to commit to the spirit of the idea.
As I’ve said before, technique needs to be matched with an honorable intention. If they’re mismatched, you will come across as disingenuous, perhaps even untrustworthy or manipulative. Hear that sound? That’s the conflict escalating.
So the idea here isn’t to “technique” someone robotically. The idea is to join the resistance genuinely — to become truly interested in it and explore it.