INFORMATION CAUSES RESISTANCE
For some reason, we maintain a long-standing belief that if we offer the right people the right information at the right time, presented in the right way, those it’s intended to influence will be duly impressed and adopt it. But that’s erroneous. Just think how often we
- patiently explain to our kids why something is bad for them,
- present a well-considered idea to our boss,
- share an important idea with a friend,
- offer great data as rationale to lead change initiatives,
- offer brilliant pitches to prospects to explain how our solution can help them,
- explain to patients why they need to change habits or diets,
and how often our brilliant delivery and logical (and probably accurate) argument is not only ignored but rebuffed. Certainly the ineffective behaviors continue regardless of the logic of the information we offer. Are they just stupid? Irrational? We’re ‘right’ of course: we’ve got the rational argument and data points; what we have to share is what Others need to hear.
But is this true?
It’s not. And we’re wrong. We’re actually creating resistance, losing business, destroying relationships, and impeding change. Here’s why. When we present rational data, or make arguments based on logic or wisdom or knowledge, and hope it will sway an opinion or get a new decision made to, say, change a behavior, we’re putting the cart before the horse. While the data itself may be important, we are merely using our own biases, needs, control issues, etc. as the motivation to offer it, not to mention our timing may be inappropriate.
We sometimes forget that the organizing system that holds the problem in place – the people, rules, relationships, goals, etc. that make up the status quo and created the problem to begin with – has maintained itself in that same format through time and has developed and normalized it’s own series of biases, habits, assumptions, etc. In fact, the organizing system regards new information as a threat to it’s status quo: until it discovers a way to change so stability is maintained, it will automatically resist anything from outside. You see, until there’s internal buy-in for change, and until the system that holds the problem in place is assured it will not face chaos with change, people have no place to put the new information. The system is sacrosanct, regardless of the need or the efficacy of the solution/information; since it’s functionality has become normalized, it won’t seek, understand, use, or welcome new information.
We believe that part of our jobs as leaders, sales professionals, coaches, managers, or even parents is to be the arbiters of change, with information a main ingredient. And we tend to think that if we offer appropriate data – rational, proven, useful, well-delivered – as the reason for change, the Other will adopt it. But information in and of itself does not teach someone how to change: information promotes knowledge that may not be understood or pursued by that person at that time. Not to mention that people listen through subjective filters and can only hear/understand new information in direct relation to the same beliefs that caused the problem to begin with.
Change requires a systems overhaul. It’s not possible to permanently change behaviors by changing behaviors.
Let me explain. Everyone – people and teams, companies and families – possesses unique internal beliefs, values, histories, biases (representing our status quo, or our unique, personal, unconscious system) that are idiosyncratic and determine our behaviors (behaviors being the translation, the representation of, our unconscious system). Indeed, these internal systems are so clearly defined, habituated, and defended that our lives are actually determined by these: our unconscious listening filters are so subjective that we don’t even know how to listen when information is offered that’s outside our conventional thinking (See my book What? Did you really say what I think I heard? about how our brains are organized to listen subjectively and mishear/misunderstand anything outside our norms).
And I cannot say this enough, so please disregard this repetition: Regardless of how important, necessary, or life-saving our information is, it will be resisted until/unless there is internal buy-in for it and an identified route from the problematic status quo, through to buy-in for change, through to execution, is developed in a way that maintains Systems Congruence.
OFFER INFORMATION ONLY WHEN SYSTEM READY FOR CHANGE
It is only when parts of our system seek a new level of excellence and get buy in from the habituated parts of us, that we’re even ready to consider thinking, listening for, and opening our eyes to anything different. There is no direct route between hearing new information and acting on it, unless we’ve already determined that THAT DATA at THAT TIME is worth the disruption of change.
Certainly it’s necessary to figure out how to change without disruption before any sort of change be considered, regardless of our initiatives as outsiders to influence the change. If the system had recognized the need to change and knew how to fix it congruently it would have fixed the problem already.
Here are some specifics. At the point the need for change is considered, even by a small part of the system, the system must get buy-in from everything and everyone that will touch a potential new solution and knows how to change its underlying rules in a way that insures minimal disruption. In other words,
no buy-in/no agreed-upon safe route forward = no change considered = no information accepted.
The new information doesn’t fit anywhere, can’t be heard, can’t be understood. We end up pushing valid data into a closed system that doesn’t recognize the need for it. Information is the very last thing needed once the route of change has been designed.
Telling kids why they should clean their rooms, telling prospects why your solution is better, telling managers to use new software, telling patients to lose weight or exercise, doesn’t create the hoped-for change, regardless of how cogent the information except where the kids, buyers, managers, or patients were already set up to/seeking change and know how to move forward congruently (i.e. the low hanging fruit).
Here are a couple of simple examples.
- As you run out the door to get your daughter to school your spouse says, “I think we should move.” Huh! “We’ll speak more tonight,” you reply. On your way home you notice a great house for sale and you buy it. You come home to your family and tell them “Hey. We’re moving next week. I just bought a house!” Do you think the information about the house is relevant to your family at that point (even if it’s the perfect house)?
- You and your team are getting ready to launch a new product you’ve been developing for two years. Your boss tells you the company has been bought out and it may affect the launch, certainly effects next year’s budget, your work location, and the makeup of the team. Then a sales person calls selling team building software. Do you think information about the software is relevant at this point?
- You’re a consultant hired to lead a team through a complicated company reorganization that will leave the function, output, and relationships in jeopardy. The team has been stable, working successfully together for three years and has enjoyed great productivity and camaraderie. Do you think knowing the reasons behind the reorganization will help the transition be effortless or effective?
It’s not about the need or efficacy: change cannot happen until a system knows:
- how it will be affected by the new solution and that the new will maintain Systems Congruence;
- that the new solution will be agreeable to all involved – all the stakeholders that will be effected by a change;
- the criteria that must be met and how to manage any discrepancies between the new and the old;
- the parameters for, and route through to, change to ensure minimal disruption;
- the level of buy-in necessary;
- the new rules and norms that must be adopted and how they will fit with the status quo.
In my book Dirty Little Secrets I lay out the steps to change and decision making in a buying decision. It carefully details how systems fight fight fight to maintain themselves – homeostasis – regardless of their problems which have been baked in and accepted (i.e. not recognized as a problem); anything that pushes the system out of balance will create resistance (whether the system needs the change or not – remember: the system ‘is’, and gets up daily maintaining itself) as the normalized functioning is threatened.
Giving information too early, before a system can learn how to adopt change so any disruption is integrated, merely causes resistance as the system fights for balance. Not to mention if the new information is well outside of our conventional beliefs or experience, it cannot even be heard accurately.
And so, our brilliant, necessary, cogent information gets ignored, resisted, objected to, or misunderstood and we must handle the ubiquitous objections and resistance that we have created (and sadly miss real opportunities to facilitate change). Hence long sales cycles/lost sales and implementation problems, ignored advice, ill patients not complying with necessary behavior changes, and lost opportunities. So: help people/groups manage change first to set up the agreement, congruency, and buy-in; then offer information.
Conventional sales, marketing, training, coaching, parenting, healthcare, and leadership models use sharing and gathering information as their core, and first, activity, assuming people will be willing to change by being offered rational, necessary, data. But facilitating change goes well beyond information.
I’ve developed a generic Change Facilitation model (called Buying Facilitation® in sales) which works with each step of systemic change to generate buy-in of all elements, people, rules, etc. that will touch the new solution, and enables a system to design it’s own route through to congruent change; information is offered once there is agreement for adoption – and by the time you offer it, there is already eagerness for change and an eagerness to adopt and listen to your information. If you’re a coach, negotiator, seller, purchasing agent, leader, doctor, or implementer add it into your current skills. Then when it’s time to offer information, your clients will be ready for it.
Sharon-Drew Morgen is the author most recently of What? Did you really say what I think I heard? Sharon-Drew is also the author of the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and 7 other books on how decisions get made, how change happens in systems, and how buyers buy; and the Amazon bestseller Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell. She is the developer of Buying Facilitation® a facilitation tool for sellers, coaches, and managers to help others determine their best decisions and enable excellence. Her award winning blog sharondrewmorgen.com has 1500 original articles with original thinking on systems, collaboration, buying, leadership, etc. Sharon-Drew is a visionary, trainer, coach, consultant, and speaker. She can be reached at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.