Resistance is a form of cooperation

When it's our intention to get everyone understood, we're on the right track. People will buy-in to the change we're promoting without a big sales pitch. The "tough sell" will become easy. The people who are feeling understood will sell themselves on following through on the change. It make sense to them on their own terms. They will tag the change we want as: "useful", "in my favor", "good for us" or "needed improvement".

Instead of overcoming the resistance, we see the resistance as a sign of what is misunderstood or not-yet-understood. It helps us get everyone understood when people start whining, complaining, objecting and opposing the change. We see what other issues to address or reconsider.

When it's our intention to get everyone understood, we are coming from a place of inclusion. We're acting like "we're all in this together". We represent the idea that there is no winning at other's expense; only everybody wins or everybody loses in this. We convince people with our actions and act on our principle of mutual respect.

When people feel understood, they do not need to get attention in hopes of getting understood. There's no need for further whining. When there's no need to get attention, there's also no urge to get even for not getting enough attention. The use of resistance as retaliation vanishes. Meanwhile, when people feel understood, they feel inclined to understand others. They open up to other viewpoints. The change they opposed becomes understandable.

Lots of people cannot adopt the intention to get everyone understood. They appear to have high control needs, low tolerance of ambiguity and lots of fears. They experience a crisis when someone else is right. They cannot handle contradictions gracefully. They have the effect on other's of making them feel misunderstood, wronged, blamed or stupid.

When Steve de Shazer first proposed that "resistance is a form of cooperation", his idea met resistance. The idea appeared to not understand therapists, social workers and change agents who take resistance literally. It made those people wrong who make other people wrong. It handed out "a taste of their medicine" to those who cannot intend to get everyone understood.

The resistance to seeing resistance as a form of cooperation taught me a big lesson. No amount of refining the intended change will get it right. Only getting everyone understood works. Misunderstand people and we miss out on changes falling into place. Get the message in the resistance and we get the change accepted easily.


  1. Roger McPherson5/25/2007 3:34 PM


    You are absolutely correct. Honest, open communication is key.

    In addition to those who cannot adopt the intention to get everyone understood, there are other impediments to understanding.

    I believe that the lack of civil discourse is one of the biggest problems our society has. It keeps us from being able to communicate effectively.

    It seems that our media organizations negatively impact civil discourse. Sound bites, biases, sensationalism, and the like all work to prevent the type of communication necessary to explain ideas and reasons for change.

    This blog, and others, support civil discourse. I appreciate your thoughtful and insightful comments.

    It is my hope that more people turn to the Internet for deeper understanding of issues and reply less on traditional media.


  2. Thanks Roger
    I think you're right about a lack of civil discourse offline. The representative government is serving moneyed interests, the media are beholden to shareholder's passion for earnings growth, and the schools are confined to accountability measures. Happily civil discourse is moving online -- as you observed.