You won’t be able to resist this dialogue on change, engagement, and resistance with Rick Maurer and David Zinger.  Rick offers a very helpful understanding of resistance and what we can do about it. Here are two snippet from there dialogue, followed by a recording with slides and a transcript that offers you time stamps to find specific sections that may interest you.

…there are three levels of resistance, but those three levels are also three levels of support, and so let me just talk about the support side very quickly and then we can go into whatever depth you want on the three levels. What’s needed quite often for people to support us is they need to understand what we’re talking about, that’s level one on the positive side. They need to like it, that means they need to be leaning in, they need to be curious, they need to say yeah, yeah, tell me more about that – there’s something engaging about it, even though the thought of change might be kind of scary, what you’re talking about makes, you know, it more than makes sense, it kind of feels right, there’s an intuitive like oh yeah, and three, they need to trust us, like one that we know what we’re talking about, that we really have the standing to talk about that, and if lack of understanding, you know, not liking it, or lack of trust, if any of those are there, you get resistance, and so level one people, you know, I think of it as I don’t get it. Level two is I don’t like it, and level three is I don’t like you.

…slaying the dragon and often our words overcome resistance, creates an us and them, and it’s a power play, and as soon as we say I’ve got to overcome that resistance, now we’re in some sort of mode of trying to force people to do things, and people don’t like that. I mean most people, you know, this is only an analogy, but Newton said, you know, for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction. That happens with resistance – you push and people are going to push back, maybe not directly, maybe off to the side, but they’re going to push back.

Rick Maurer and David Zinger on Change and Engagement from David Zinger on Vimeo.

David Zinger: Hi, my name is David Zinger and I want to welcome you to an employee engagement dialogue. I’m really pleased today to have Rick Maurer here, and we’re going to talk about change, and engagement, and the workplace. Welcome, Rick. [00:28]

Rick Maurer: Thanks, it’s good to be here, David. [00:30]

David Zinger: I have a slide up with a bit of your background and everything from jazz to your book, but I wonder if you want to just say a few words about what you got so interested in change and a little bit of your interest in engagement too? [00:43]

Rick Maurer: Sure thing. Well, I had been an organization development consultant for about 15 years and for a number of reasons, including some of my attraction to the arts, and writing plays, and doing stuff like that. I was getting rusty and I wanted a place where I could go and do spring training. For anybody who doesn’t know baseball, this is what professional players do every spring and they practice the stuff they’ve been doing since they were little kids, and I thought that’s what I need. To get back in my groove if you will, I wanted a place where I could go and get practice, you know, and feedback on the finite details of what I was doing. So, a few people said you ought to go to the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland, and so I did, and not only did I get that kind of spring training detailed feedback, I learned a new theory, and I wasn’t expecting that, and the Gestalt theory of why people support things and why they resist opened my eyes. I mean it was consistent with what I’d been thinking, but it was much clearer, it was much more detailed, it had more depth to it, and at the end of this 18 month program one of the faculty members, I had already written a couple of books at that point, said hey are you going to write about that, and I said I hadn’t thought about it, and he said you know we recommend you do, and I didn’t want to use psychological language, so I really thought for a couple of years and ended up writing a book called Beyond the Wall of Resistance that came…where I could say all right, here’s what I think resistance and support is in the workplace, and I was writing… I actually had a little card up on my computer that said I am writing for managers, I am not writing for fellow consultants, because I didn’t want to fill it with lots of theory, and lots of footnotes to make sure that people went oh, he’s credible. I was thinking to the people I consult to. Well, it got me fascinated, you know, in this whole notion of resistance enough to write a book, and then when it came out I was stunned at the reaction; I mean I’d written a couple of books before and people said gee that’s nice, and here people are calling me and saying hey, could you come help us with this, we think this is important, and so within a couple of years that’s all I was doing. I was a one trick pony by like 1998-1998. [03:04]

David Zinger: So, spring training became a whole career? [03:08]

Rick Maurer: It did, yes it did, and the thing about it, I’m sorry this is so long, it’s I keep learning. I keep learning and that’s what keeps it alive for me and why it’s so exciting. [03:17]

David Zinger: Rick, this might not be a fair question, but let’s imagine Andrew’s leader/manager within the aviation industry has a staff of 20, he’s in charge of a major change initiative. So, just to backtrack is there a one sentence or two sentence description you’d use for a Gestalt view of change in that background or is that an unfair question? [03:39]

Rick Maurer: No, no, that’s a great question. Yeah, there’s a key thing in Gestalt theory called The Paradoxical Theory of Change by Arnold Beisser, and he suggests that you can’t make people change. What you can do is create the conditions so people really see even behind the corners of the, you know, of the status quo, they really get it, and it’s that feeling of like discomfort and anticipation for what we could do that allows us to change. It’s like the yin-yang kind of thing and we sort of tip over into it. Most change strategies don’t do that – they try to force us into the next step, and the next step, and the Gestalt approach says no, it’s paradoxical; you’ve really got to work where you are and keep heightening awareness of kind of the things that haven’t been looked at so that people then become ready. [04:33]

David Zinger: And that very force is part of what gets some of that resistance. Before we get into Beyond the Wall of Resistance and some levels, what’s engaging you most in your work right now? [04:46]

Rick Maurer: That’s a really good question. There is a lot that’s engaging me. A big thing that has had my attention for the last, I don’t know, four or five years is all of this research in how the brain works, and certainly the research didn’t start five years ago, but I was spending more and more time looking at it because, you know, I was delighted to see that a lot of this stuff in neurobiology and social psychology really fits with this model that I developed somewhat intuitively 15 years ago, and what it’s done is it keeps enriching my ability to use this model that I came up with; I mean I realize oh, as Yogi Berra once said, there’s deep depth, and so I do. I love reading those kinds of studies; I love kind of translating them so my clients get it so I’m not talking all nerdy to them. [05:50]

David Zinger: Yeah. Yeah, you know my background is in counseling/psychology and we’ve always had pop psychology and I kind of laugh, but we now have pop neurobiology and there’s some people that do it so well, like David Rock and others, and then there’s some other people that try to popularize such a complex brain, and you wonder about that. You know in your book you talk to a number of leading experts in change, and in one area you said you didn’t want that interview to be an infomercial, and it isn’t the intent of this dialogue to be an infomercial, but I just received your book yesterday. We had already lined this up and I just thought it was so well done. I thought you did an excellent job of being helpful, being down to earth, adding some depth to it, talking to people like Peter Block and Meg Wheatley; it was just a very well done job and I imagine you hearing lots of that kind of feedback. [06:51]

Rick Maurer: Well, thank you. I really appreciate that, that feels good, and I can’t hear it enough, so that’s good. [07:00]

David Zinger: So, we’ll keep with the awareness of that, of hearing the positive about that. So, you know when we hear that word resistance it gets all kinds of things going on in our mind and in the book you talk about resistance as a force that slows or stops movement. Perhaps before we get too far with what Andrew can do around change and engagement, can you say a little bit more about resistance? [07:22]

Rick Maurer: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, that definition, it’s a force that slows or stops movement, I think I got from Webster’s dictionary, and why I liked it is there’s no emotional baggage. Often in the workplace anyway, if you say the word resistance and you say what comes to mind, a bunch of negative things come up. You know, roadblocks, conflict, headaches, but and what I’m suggesting is no, it’s just a force that slows or stops movement, and in some cases like in electricity, resistance is a pretty good thing. Putting on your brakes on your car, that’s a pretty good thing, so resistance, you know, sort of whether it’s positive or negative often is in the eye of the beholder. So, I mean both of us will resist things all through the day, you know, both of us are resisting doing something else because we blocked out time for this call because we thought oh, this would be valuable, this will be fun, and all of us do that all the time, and so leaders, and I know we’ll get to Andrew in a second… Leaders who really get that, that resistance is, you know, it just is, I mean it’s how we react to things, can now start to come up with different strategies for building support. [08:39]

David Zinger: So, it’s not the dragon that needs to be slain, it’s a natural phenomenon, and perhaps that’s a good place for many leaders and organizations to begin is with an acceptance of resistance while not going to acquiescence? [08:55]

Rick Maurer: Yeah, absolutely. In fact, slaying the dragon and often our words overcome resistance, creates an us and them, and it’s a power play, and as soon as we say I’ve got to overcome that resistance, now we’re in some sort of mode of trying to force people to do things, and people don’t like that. I mean most people, you know, this is only an analogy, but Newton said, you know, for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction. That happens with resistance – you push and people are going to push back, maybe not directly, maybe off to the side, but they’re going to push back. [09:35]

David Zinger: They’ll find a spot. [09:35]

Rick Maurer: Yeah, they’ll find it. [09:37]

David Zinger: So, one of the strengths, and we have it kind of on the left-hand side bar and we’re going to look into it are the categorizations you have on the three levels of resistance. [09:47]

Rick Maurer: Yeah. [09:48]

David Zinger: Maybe just talk about the structure and then we’ll go and look at each one. [09:52]

Rick Maurer: OK, great. Well, what I identified is that there are three levels of resistance, but those three levels are also three levels of support, and so let me just talk about the support side very quickly and then we can go into whatever depth you want on the three levels. What’s needed quite often for people to support us is they need to understand what we’re talking about, that’s level one on the positive side. They need to like it, that means they need to be leaning in, they need to be curious, they need to say yeah, yeah, tell me more about that – there’s something engaging about it, even though the thought of change might be kind of scary, what you’re talking about makes, you know, it more than makes sense, it kind of feels right, there’s an intuitive like oh yeah, and three, they need to trust us, like one that we know what we’re talking about, that we really have the standing to talk about that, and if lack of understanding, you know, not liking it, or lack of trust, if any of those are there, you get resistance, and so level one people, you know, I think of it as I don’t get it. Level two is I don’t like it, and level three is I don’t like you. [11:03]

David Zinger: That’s just wonderful, that’s wonderful terminology; it’s just so down to earth and yet so powerful. [11:12]

Rick Maurer: Well, thank you. I want to give credit where credit’s due. I was working on a draft of another book where those terms came up and my editor, Leslie Steven, who is just a great editor, called me and said Rick, I think what you’re trying to say with these three levels is I don’t get it, I don’t like it, and I don’t like you, and I said that’s it. I mean so I bless her for that; it’s really been a helpful way for people to remember those levels. [11:38]

David Zinger: Well, three is kind of a magic number at times and I think that everyday terminology makes it easier for someone like Andrew whose, you know, managing that group of 20 to be able to think about those factors, and it (inaudible) what you said at the start, the jargon of being it directed at consultants or other people along the way. Let’s just take a quick tour of those three and then maybe we can open up a bit. So, level one? [12:03]

Rick Maurer: Level one is all cognitive. It’s does the other person understand what we’re talking about, and so (inaudible) any mangers who really, and they want to give people the financial data about what’s going on, and so they inundate them with slides, and graphs, and the problem is their audience doesn’t know how to read financial data. So, the intent is good, but they’re overwhelming them with this strange, it’s like reading hieroglyphics, you know, for somebody who can’t read hieroglyphics which I guess are all of us these days, and we make that mistake or we use our own jargon if, let’s say we’re an HR person or IT and we move to another department and we’re using that same jargon trying to influence them, we miss it. So, that level one is pretty simple to work with, but we have to pay attention to am I speaking in a way that they can understand it? [12:58]

David Zinger: OK, and then we move to level two. [13:01]

Rick Maurer: Yeah, well level two, I don’t like it, is not the, you know, I don’t like sushi, couldn’t we go someplace else? It’s I don’t like it and it’s based on fear; there is something about this change that scares us. It could be I could lose my job, I’m an old dog, I can’t learn new tricks, I can’t learn that new technology, what’s going to happen to this project that I believe in, what’s going to happen to my status, my power, and many of these things may not even be conscious, but they’re there and this is where the neurobiology stuff is so powerful and is like Daniel Goleman calls it, he said it’s an amygdula highjack and it’s where that part of the brain that kicks in way before rationale thought kicks in and controls this, and when that happens we can’t take in level one information anymore, because we’re concerned about our own survival, and until that clears up, you know, you can give me all the slides you want and I’m not going to hear them. [13:56]

David Zinger: And talking about that, let’s move to the third slide, so level three? [14:01]

Rick Maurer: Yeah, level three, I don’t like you. What it really means is I don’t trust you; I don’t have confidence in you to lead a change like this or to work with us on this particular issue, so I may like you. So, let’s say it’s you and me working together, David, and you go yeah, yeah, you know, no, Rick’s a good guy, you know, and whenever, you know, he’s up my way we get together… I realize we haven’t actually met, but you know, but Rick’s a good guy, and you say oh great, so are you going to follow him on that project? What, are you nuts? The guy can’t lead his way out of a paper bag; he gets all these great ideas and two months later he’s off on something else, so that would be a level three. [14:40]

David Zinger: OK, so let’s go to Andrew and say he’s in charge of a change for his area. I know that’s kind of vague or whatever. What’s generally just, you know, kind of one thought or thing that he could take from each perspective to help him navigate through those times of change? [15:02]

Rick Maurer: OK, well there’s a really simple tool that I developed that people on this call could start using right away, there’s nothing you have to buy, you don’t have to go anywhere, and I just call it the list, and if I’m going to work with an Andrew, Andrew calls me, the first thing I want to know is what’s on the list, and what’s on the list is what are the level one, two, and three issues that people are talking about, and usually what are they talking about when you’re not in the room; what are they talking about with their friends, what are they talking about in carpools, what are they talking about when they get home when they’re talking to their partners, and that kind of stuff, that level one, two, and three stuff can make or break a change, and you can’t create a good change strategy until you know the people get it, how they’re reacting to it emotionally, and three do they have any trust and confidence in us, and once you know that now you can start to build a strategy, and if you don’t know it, you’re using some textbook and saying oh, well this author’s says here’s step six, OK let’s move to step six, and it’s independent of what’s really going on in the organization. So, the first thing is find out what’s on that list. [16:14]

David Zinger: OK, so you either start listing like in a ship that’s going over keel or you try and get a sense of like what’s being said when you’re not there, because people can say anything when you’re there because they think it might please you or because they’re fearful along the way. [16:30]

Rick Maurer: Exactly. [16:31]

David Zinger: How about just one more idea for Andrew? [16:34]

Rick Maurer: OK, and by the way there are a lot of ways, you know, to go about that, to find out what’s on the list – surveys, and one-on-one, and all that kind of stuff. OK, so once you know what’s on the list that’s your foundation, you know, that’s the ground that you’re going to start to build this on, and if… I had one client we did a survey and I interviewed some people, the levels people got it, they liked it, they trusted her, they said in fact she’s the best leader we’ve ever worked for. I said you know when we have this planning meeting you can jump right in. I mean people see the challenge, they’re ready to work (inaudible) with you, we don’t have to waste a lot… We don’t have to waste? We don’t have to use a lot of time getting up to speed. Other clients will look at that list and I’ll say you know you’ve really got to do some stuff so that people really understand why we’re even talking about this change or you’ve got to do some stuff to start to turn the corner where people can begin to feel like they can trust you, and then I coach them on that, but it’s using that list to say all right, so what, certainly what are the initial steps going to look like? As opposed to we’ll hold a meeting and we’ll show 150 PowerPoint slides, which is at least in the United States that seems to be the most popular way of introducing a change. [17:55]

David Zinger: Yeah, in Canada we use 142, but… [17:57]

Rick Maurer: Yeah, well you’re more advanced, so we’ll catch up. [18:01]

David Zinger: You know I like your framework and before we started the call I was saying to you, you know, my involvement in employee engagement and the network’s almost at 5,000 people, so I follow that field quite well. Really as we look at workplaces becoming more engaging and really as a verb, not a noun, I mean the struggle is that still many people don’t get it, they don’t understand it, the rationale, and I’m not just talking about the business case, but that way of working. Many don’t like it because all of the sudden emotionally it means different ways of relating and working with people, and many organizations at the very time that they’re trying to foster more engagement may be downsizing or doing other things that blow the trust out of the water, and so people are kind of saying I don’t like you, and so they’re not engaging. [18:50]

Rick Maurer: Right, yeah, yeah, absolutely, and I… I do agree that there are people who don’t get it, but I used to do a really simple thing when I used to teach for Center for Creative Leadership and would teach the thing on motivation. I’d say think about the best job you ever had, and it could have been a job you had in the summer in college, that makes no difference, what made it so satisfying, and just brainstorm for a second, and then I would, you know, on a flipchart I would write it all down. Money rarely ever came into that. [19:21]

David Zinger: Yeah. [19:22]

Rick Maurer: It was you had autonomy, creativity, I loved the people I was working with, we were, you know, we knew why our work was important. It really, you know, in five minutes it was the principles of engagement, and I would say to these… This was before that engagement was part of our vocabulary in that way, and I said OK, so now you know everything you need to know about motivation, that’s it, you know, so let’s talk about why it’s not happening. So, in some ways I believe a lot of people do get it, but the level two and the level three really are getting in the way of that, and I think the I don’t like it, I think there’s a lot of reasons it can come, but in some organizations the culture actually punishes people who would act in a way that would be engaging; it would seem soft, and so there are these rules, quite often unwritten rules that say here’s how you need to act, and if you do something different like you have a meeting where people can really roll up their sleeves, they’ll go oh there she goes again wasting time with those kind of touchy-feely meetings, and a couple of those you go wow, that’s hurting my career and as much as I’d like to do it, I’m not going to do it anymore, and so I think there are things with the individual like Andrew, and I think there are things in the culture that are pulling Andrew toward particular ways of behaving. [20:45]

David Zinger: Yeah, and you make a strong case in your book about attending to both context and culture and the whole factor involved with that. [20:54]

Rick Maurer: Yeah. [20:54]

David Zinger: So, if people want to learn more they can go to your website. You have a blog there, and a number of articles, and you’ve got that fine book, Beyond the Wall of Resistance, and as I said although I just received it about 3:00 PM yesterday afternoon, I’ve gone through most of it and you just seem to really speak quite directly to people who might be involved in change. Any final thoughts before we bring this dialogue to an end, Rick? [21:20]

Rick Maurer: Yeah, two quick things. One is thanks for mentioning the website. At the bottom of the homepage there’s a free e-book that I just posted last month called The Magic List, and it’s a description of the list I talked about and also how to go about getting that information of what’s on the list, so if people were intrigued by that thought, that’s a good free resource right there to do it. The other thing is just… A comment about resistance is those people out there are not resisters. Resistance isn’t the (inaudible), resistance happens in the relationship between you and me, so it’s a dance, so if people are supporting we can start to say so what’s going on in this field, in this relationship, and if there’s resistance, what’s going on in this field or in this relationship that’s causing it, and so that kind of shift in perspective can often (inaudible) to our own perception and how we see things. [22:16]

David Zinger: Well, thank you very much for taking about 20 minutes with us today. I’m David Zinger, this was Rick Maurer, we were talking about change and employee engagement, and hope that you’ll all take a good look at engagement in your workplace and move through those levels of I don’t get it, I don’t like it, and I don’t like you. Thank you very much. [22:36]

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David Zinger is an employee engagement expert who offers exceptional speeches, workshops and courses to improve engagement, results, and relationships for both organizations and individuals. Contact David today (david@davidzinger.com) to arrange for his services to increase engagement.