By Heather Meeker Green
Star Trek: Next Generation fans remember episodes that included an alien race called the Borg in which their stock phrase was “Resistance is futile” where they would assimilate other cultures into their world forcing them to become part Borg. I think they were right in that generally resistance is futile. In my experience, there really isn’t a way to stop the sensation or feeling of not wanting to comply or accept something. When resistance (a force that opposes or slows down motion) arises, it is difficult to prevent the energy from taking over us and halting the ease and flow.
Resistance comes up in many circumstances. We may feel it in ourselves and we may see it in our counterparts and colleagues. In the workplace, it surfaces when:
change is proscribed, such as to systems, processes or protocols,
people are doing something new or face something unfamiliar,
there is exposure to stressful situations,
misunderstandings crop up from assumptions or miscommunication, and
tension is present in relationships.
During these scenarios, resistance manifests as a sensation or emotion in which we don’t want to do something or feel angry, upset, annoyed or frustrated. Behaving in distorted manners (appearing lethargic or complacent, showing up late to meetings, missing deadlines, not communicating or responding to emails or calls, or avoiding people altogether) are a way of acting out the feelings that are not actually being expressed. This plays out in many different places and may surface in both implicit and explicit ways. Sometimes we don’t even know we are in a state of resistance nor have any sense that we are stuck in that perception. In fact, often the reasons cited for resistance, particularly when facing change in the workplace, are usually external in nature (inadequate process, disorganized leaders, and unreasonable timelines). Unfortunately, the critical internal factor of the feeling of discomfort and fear given the perception of change as personally difficult is typically overlooked.
While resistance serves as a marker for looking more deeply at something going on inside, if we don’t get a handle fairly quickly during these moments, it will be counterproductive to remain in that state, as it can get in the way of productivity, morale, engagement, and achievement on the job. So, what can we do to resist resistance when it comes up?
The first step requires awareness that it exists. When the feeling of resistance erupts, it truly is futile to attempt to not feel it or be impacted by the sensation in that moment. The quicker we recognize that we are in resistance or see it in someone else, and let it flow through or around us and stay present to it as simply energy that is happening now, we can move toward other steps to resist the resistance.
The second step is to shift from a negative perspective on feeling resistance to a more accepting stance. It may seem counter intuitive to agree to the idea of resistance because if someone feels unhappy or scared or worried about something new or different, the concept of allowing it or not resisting the discomfort may seem impossible. However, if they can metaphorically “sit next to it” and treat it as an old friend, perhaps more ease and comfort will surface. They may recognize with the appearance of resistance it is a signal that there is something going on that is scary or upsetting.
A third and final step to resisting resistance, once there is awareness that it is present and after accepting that it is biological and unavoidable, is to take a few moments to get back into a calmer state through deeper breathing or sitting quietly for a minute, and then consider what might be going on and where the fear is coming from, in order to find a new perspective and ideas for reassurance.
Ultimately, the way to resist resistance is an internal path. Even though the instinct is to blame and point the finger at everything that is wrong going on around us, and assume the problem is out there or in others, we are in charge of our perspectives and reactions. By catching ourselves, we can make the effort to shift to the other side of resistance through awareness, acceptance and assurance.