Thoughts on Resistance to Change and Negativism

Sometimes, you get into a situation where people in the group you're working with are quite vocal in their feelings about change. They appear focused on what happened years ago and seem almost actively resistant to doing things differently.

Sounds like a Spectator Sheep Issue to me.

I see the problem as reality. At least their perceived reality that is based on direct experience and supported by peer pressure, which works in all directions. The group has evolved to seem almost hostile, they frame things in a negative way and they sort for the past as opposed to the future. And if they are technical types, there is a tendency for them to be "small chunkers" and involved less in the Big Stuff and more in the minutae. Lots of little negative things in all that mire, for sure.

So, here is an idea.

Use a copy of the Square Wheels One cartoon and show it to the group with an explanation that the cartoon represents how things work in most organizations. (Ideas from the Tip Sheet). Allow them to vent their negative thoughts on what is wrong with the organization and that the Square Wheels thump and bump and that leadership is isolated and all that.

Set it up so that each group of 5 or 6 people will select a "spokesperson" (pun - get it?) and that this person will share the group's thoughts on the illustration. Give them a large piece of paper and a number of pens and let them draw (or mindmap) on that paper. Expect a focus on the negative because people project their beliefs about how things work onto what operates as an organizational inkblot test.

But also expect them to generate some positives.

One issue you are probably facing is that they are "associated" with the negative reality and "in" the situation as they see it on a daily basis. This is an emotional perspective.

What you need to do is get them to "disassociate" from the reality and gain a bit of perspective and distance from it. This dissociated position is a much less emotional one and is used in therapy to deal with phobias and other strongly emotional mental states.

Square Wheels One does that. They are seeing other people involved in the situation. So, they are less emotionally involved themselves. And what you can expect are some positives -- the round wheels are already in the wagon. There is a need to stop pushing and pulling, as they have always done, and LOOK at the resources they already have. (And so forth).

Let THEM generate these perspectives. If necessary, even prompt them for the positives by asking something, "Is this situation hopeless for the future?" or "What are some potential positives with this activity." SOME of the people will share positive reactions.

These you can build on.

The key is to shift their perspective from negative / past to possibilities / future.

Now here is the tricky part. Suggest that someone once said (referring to the illustration), "We're not like that -- We push the wagon uphill!" Get them to laugh at the difficulties of the journey. And then add the reality that another group is missing from the activity and overlay the transparency of 6 sheep on the side of the hill above the wagon who are making, "Naaaaaaa. Baaaaaa." sounds. These are what are called Spectator Sheep and they are often not involved in making improvements and will often voice 'their support.'

(You can then even get the group to say, "Naaaaaaa. Baaaaaa." It adds a bit of fun to the event!)


In ALL the groups I have ever worked with, this approach is simple and works great. The people who are the actual workplace Spectator Sheep DO this -- they don't help out and they verbally complain in the negative (Naaaaaa). What you want to do is gain their involvement in offering some Round Wheel ideas and providing some perspective.

You have now moved them forward into the future with their thinking about how things can be improved with Round Wheels. So now, you can ask them to begin to define what the Square Wheels might be (and they are things that DO work and ARE working now in most organizations) and then focus on what the Round Wheels are and how they might be implemented.

The detailed people can get focused on the future improvements. They are being challenged to look at the problems but to also find the solutions.

It is NOT perfect or bombproof, but it is a highly effective framework and one that is well grounded in some basic principles of psychology (without the gobbledegoop although I can share some of that if you want it!).

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