​​Overcoming the 6 Sources of Resistance Part I


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You're listening to the School Leadership Reimagined Podcast, episode number twenty.

Welcome to the School Leadership Reimagined podcast...

where we rethink what's possible to transform your school. If you're tired of settling for small wins and incremental improvement, then stay tuned to discover powerful and practical strategies for getting every teacher in your school moving towards excellence. Now, here's your host, Robyn Jackson.

Hey Builders, welcome to episode 20 of the School Leadership Reimagined podcast. I’m your host, Robyn Jackson and today, we’re talking about a BIG obstacle that many Builders are facing right now.


You know what I’m talking about. You bring a new idea or an innovation to your staff and they push back, or they make excuses about why it can’t be done, or they try to distract you by saying, “we don’t need to work on that; we need to work on this other thing over here” or they sabotage your efforts either open or passive-aggressively.

Resistance is a huge headache and can really sap your energy, and if you’re not careful it can weaken your resolve and get you so focused on the distractions that you lose sight of your bigger and more important goals.

Resistance is real ya’ll but you know what? Just like every other obstacle that you face as a Builder, there’s an opportunity there too. In fact, facing and dealing with resistance can actually help you get even MORE buy-in for your plans and even more support for your initiatives and I’m not just talking about fake, lip-service buy in either. I’m talking about real investment from the very people you depend on to transform your school.

Here’s what bosses do. They try to stomp out any form of resistance as soon as it crops up. Leaders do a little better. They try to cojole people out of resistance or compromise along the way. Eh. It will get you a little farther, but you’ll continue to face resistance and make compromises every step of the way and that’s not only exhausting, it means that you are chipping away at parts of your plan that may keep you from reaching your ultimate goal.

Builders do it differently. 

They don’t try to stomp out resistance but they don’t placate and cajole and make a bunch of compromises that water down their goals either.

What Builders do is they leverage resistance in order to create buy in where there was once push back and turn resisters into some of their biggest supporters.

As much as you may hate push-back, today I want to show you that resistance can actually be a good thing, especially when you deal with it like a builder.

But before I dive in, I want to first remind you about Builder’s Lab 2019...

which is happening January 28-30, 2019. Builder’s Lab is not your typical conference with a series of keynote speakers and break out sessions. Oh no. Builder’s Lab is a 3-day intensive training with me. We keep things really small, less than 100 people so that I can give you my personal feedback and support and coaching throughout the conference.

This year, we’re focusing on helping you solve some of the biggest challenges you are facing in your school this year whether that’s raising test scores, increasing the quality of instruction in your school, or overcoming toxic cultures, or anything else in between. You’ll bring your biggest challenges to Builder’s Lab and in 3 days we’re going to dig in and use our Builder’s Blueprint to help you map out a path to resolving your challenges this school year. In fact, we’ve even included an Implementation Lab on Day 3 to help you take everything you’ve learned in Builder’s Lab and immediately put it into action. You’ll walk away with a comprehensive 90-day plan with the exact steps you need to take to turn that biggest obstacle into your biggest opportunity this year.

Now a lot of people think that they can’t afford to spend 3 whole days away from school and I get that. But, I promise you that if you invest 3 days in Builder’s Lab, it will give you the focus and the tools you need to go back to school and solve some of those challenges that make you feel like you can’t get away. In fact, last year, we had several principals who I convinced to come even though they were swamped and do you wanna know what they said? They said it was the BEST investment of time that they could have made. They went back to their schools more energized and more focused and you wanna know what else? They kicked butt the remainder of the school year. One principal ended up having one of the biggest test score gains in her district that year. Another principal went back and completely revitalized his school culture so much so that this year, his teachers have taken on the work themselves and his school has never been more energized and on fire for kids. He just sent me a picture of his staff the other day and he said they are having their best year ever! Another instructional coach had resigned from her position right before coming to Builder’s Lab last year and after day one, she called her boss and said, “I’m all in!” I just came back from visiting her school and because of her work at Builder’s Lab, she and her colleagues are completely revamping their teacher observation process to make it more meaningful and to give teachers more powerful feedback (something she learned how to do at Builder’s Lab by the way).

So you need to do whatever you have to to get to Builder’s Lab. I promise you it will be one of the BEST professional learning experiences you have ever had. Now if you are listening to this episode the day it was released, then Today is the last day to get your Early Bird ticket and save $100 off the registration fee. If you are listening to this episode later, don’t worry. There’s still hope. You can get your Builder’s Lab tickets until January 2019

Okay, let’s dive in...

...and talk about how to turn the obstacle of resistance into one of your BIGGEST opportunities this year.

First of all, I need to explain what I mean by resistance.

When I say resistance, I mean that push back that you often face whenever you propose a new idea or want to start a new initiative or even if you are just giving people feedback in hopes that they will improve.

Resistance can be overt where people actively push back and tell you that you’re wrong, or that your idea is stupid, or that you don’t know what you’re talking about.

But more often, resistance takes a more passive/aggressive form where people nod their heads or at least sit there silently when you announce your new idea or try to take your school in a new direction, but then they go and quietly do everything they can to subvert your idea every chance they get.

It can be really frustrating and typically what we do is that we complain about all the resistance, or we try to steamroll our idea through anyway (only to have it sabotaged every step of the way), or we try to negotiate with terrorists and end up compromising so much that we no longer recognize our idea.

Another thing we do is we try to anticipate all the objections we might face and then we spend (ahem: waste) a lot of time trying to overcome people’s objections. Have you ever done that?

Have you ever tried to out-argue your way to change? 

It usually doesn’t work. And what’s more, when you are so focused on dealing with other people’s objections and tryign to address each and every one, you are letting other people’s agenda control the conversation and shape the larger narrative. In fact, I see this all the time where you spend more time dealing with people’s objections and complaints than talking about the change you are looking to make.

Well folks. I’m here to tell you, there is a better way. You can turn resistance, even the resistance you might be facing right now, into one of your biggest opportunities to win people over to your idea and get 100% buy in from everyone.

The first step is to figure out what kind of resistance you’re facing.

You see, not all resistance is the same. 

In fact, there are actually 6 or more layers of resistance and each one presents a unique opportunity to get buy in.

Now we won’t have enough time to get into all 6 layers of resistance in one podcast. So what I am going to do is this week, I am going to deal with the first 2 layers of resistance which have to do with resistance around the problem. These 2 layers of resistance are really about people disagreeing that you even have a problem or resisting because they don’t truly believe that they have the ability to solve the problem.

Then next time, I am going to talk about the other 4 layers of resistance which are really about the solution. These 4 layers of resistance are really about people pushing back because they don’t agree with your solution or because they are afraid of the change you are asking them to make. I am also going to give you a cool freebie next time with all 6 layers of resistance so that you can keep it as a handy cheat sheet.

Now as I go through each of the 6 layers of resistance this time and next time, I am going to explain what’s behind each layer and then I’ll tell you exactly what you need to do at that layer to turn that specific kind of resistance into a huge opportunity to get real buy in.

Here’s why this is so powerful. If when you hear an objection, you can pinpoint what layer of resistance it belongs to, you’ll know exactly how to respond to that objection and get that person on board without wasting a whole bunch of time arguing, or getting sidetracked by stuff that doesn’t really matter but keeps you distracted from what you really need to talk about. Knowing the layers of resistance and knowing how to deal with each one helps you keep the larger conversation on track and keeps you from getting sidelined by other people’s agendas. You stay in control of the conversation and you stay in control of the narrative.

I should pause here and say that much of what I am going to share with you today and next time comes from Goldratt’s theory of constraints. He actually has identified 9 layers of resistance but I’ve whittled them down to the 6 layers I see most often in schools because I know you’re very busy. (you’re welcome)

Layer One: Not agreeing that there is a problem

This is probably one of the most common layers of resistance that we need to dismantle. We sometimes get so excited about the solution that we skip a very important step first.

We forget to make sure that everyone agrees we actually have a problem.

Sounds kinda obvious but you’d be surprised at how often we skip right over this one. We just assume that everyone can see that we have a problem but unfortunately, that’s not always the case.

You can recognize this layer of resistance when people say things like:
“What is wrong with what we have right now?” or, “There is no problem,” or, “Everything is fine the way it is,” and I tell you what. There is absolutely zero point in trying to convince these people to support your solution when they won’t even acknowledge that there is a problem that needs solving.

Do you wanna know something really interesting about this layer of resistance? In some cases, people may not really see that there is a problem. If that’s the case, you just need to help them see that there is a problem and boom, you’re done.

But a lot of people who are stuck at this layer of resistance are actually well aware that there is a problem and have in the past tried really hard to solve it, but they have failed so miserably that they have come to believe that the problem is simply a part of reality.

Think about this. You’ve probably seen this before. Perhaps you are working with a teacher who for years has struggled to get students engaged in their class. After failing at it so long, they may just shrug their shoulders and say, “well kids today are hard to engage because of all of their devices. It’s just the reality. There’s nothing we can do.”

Or perhaps you are in a school where for years student test scores have been near the bottom. Initially the teachers tried to raise test scores but with very little success. Over time, the teachers have just accepted that their students are never going to score well and what’s worse, they’ve even started to make excuses for the students like -- they come from such poverty, it’s a wonder they even get to school in the first place or they’ve experienced so much trauma it’s a wonder they can even focus. They may even get to the point where they pride themselves on NOT focusing on academics so much and instead providing these students with a safe and supportive environment. Over time, they have even dismissed the low test scores as not as important as students’ social/emotional well being and no longer see the low student test scores as a problem.

The idea here is that sometimes people deny that there is a problem because they’ve gotten so used to living with the problem that the negative effects of the problem no longer seem that big of a deal. It’s just the status quo and here’s the scary part -- they actually stop believing that things could be different.

Okay so where’s the opportunity?

Your opportunity is to help people finally come face to face with the truth AND give them hope that things can be different.

Think about it. For years they have been living in denial and now you have the chance to help them not only see their situation for what it is, but actually help them resolve it.

The way you do that is to first listen to how people talk as they are in the middle of resisting to see if you can uncover the false assumptions they have about their situation that keep them stuck in denial.

For instance, in our earlier examples the false assumption is that students cannot be engaged because they are addicted to their devices. Not true. So, you could show that teacher that the SAME students are actively engaged in their other academic classes. Or in the second example with the failing students? You can show them examples of how students from the same demographics have actually mastered rigorous work and excelled academically. You can show them specific trauma-informed teaching practices that have been shown to work with students just like yours. And, you can challenge their assumptions that students can’t handle more rigor and show them that such those assumptions are actually a form of soft-stereotyping that hurts students more than helps them.

Here’s another sneaky thing that happens in layer one. Sometimes people deny that there is a problem but they refuse to acknowledge it publicly because they don’t want to be blamed for it.

Have you seen that? You’re working with a teacher who knows they are not as effective as they should be but they won’t admit that they have a problem because they don’t want to look bad in front of you or you’re working with a group of teachers who refuse to take at least some ownership over their students’ low test scores because they are afraid that you are going to blame them.

You have a real opportunity to help people take ownership and stop hiding if you play your cards right. First, here’s what you DON’T do. In this case, you don’t want to harp on how bad the problem is or get into an argument with them about how bad a teacher they are. In case you’re wondering, that feels like blame and believe me you are going to create even more resistance. That’s why when people ask me “what do you do about a teacher who won’t admit that they are not effective?” I always warn them to stop trying to get teachers to admit they are ineffective. All you’re doing is creating more resistance. .

Instead, the first thing you need to do is make very clear that are not blaming them for anything. Then you need to anchor in the outcome. In other words, focus on the conversation on what you are hoping the outcome will be and try to find common ground there.

For instance, if a teacher is always resisting your feedback and refuses to accept that they are ineffective in some areas stop fighting and pushing. Instead, start talking about the teacher’s goals and find common ground there. I remember once, I was working with a teacher who had a serious problem with low-level instruction. She thought that she was being rigorous by giving students a lot of “hard” assignments but in reality those assignments were just busy work with a lot of unnecessary hurdles built in. I tried to show her that her assignments weren’t very rigorous but she started digging in her heals and getting really indignant about her assignment. Obstacle.

So, I downshifted the conversation and started asking her what she wanted to accomplish with her assignments. She said that she was trying to help students think for themselves and be good problem solvers.

So then I did a Dr. Phil and asked her, “so how’s that working for you?”

She got a little defensive at first, but eventually she admitted that students weren’t quite there yet. That’s good. That got us through the first layer of resistance but it landed us smack dab in the middle of layer #2…

Layer Two: Believing the problem is out of their hands

In this layer of resistance, the other side insists that the problem is beyond their control and expects us to drop the whole thing.

So this teacher said that the students were so far behind there was nothing she could do to get them caught up. Plus, the curriculum was so stringently scripted, she really didn’t have time to create more rigorous learning assignments.

You’ve heard things like that before haven’t you?

Well in the past, you may have seen this layer as an annoying obstacle. But trust me, there is a really cool opportunity here to empower others to act.

The first thing you need to do is figure out if they are right and the problem really IS out of their hands or if there is something (even some small thing) they can do to solve the problem themselves.

If the problem really is out of their hands, then you can speak to whomever has the power to solve the problem. Done. Now you’re a hero.

But if the problem really is within their control, here’s your chance to show them how. For instance, that teacher I was telling you about earlier? The one who wouldn’t admit that she had a problem? Well after she realized she had a problem, her next step was to say basically, “Ok, I DO have a problem but it’s out of my hands.”

So I showed her some things that she COULD do. I showed her what WAS in her control.

I’m not going to lie to you. After this conversation she didn’t instantly become converted and start teaching in a more rigorous way, but because I understood the layers of resistance and was talking to the real reason she was resisting, over time I was able to get through to her and help her grow as a teacher.

If I hadn’t done that, I would have wasted months trying to convince her that she was ineffective

Yes, you are - no, I’m not - yes, you are - no, I’m not.

How many of you right now are having some version of that conversation with a teacher and HAVE been having that conversation for months now?

Again, how’s that working for you?

Stop it. Stop engaging in pointless arguments with people. Instead, listen to them so that you can figure out the source of their resistance. Try to find out what ayer are they on? Then you can focus your response to them in a way that deals with their resistance and helps them buy in.

These first two layers of resistance have really been about getting everyone to agree that yes, we have a problem and there is something we can do about it.

Let me tell you something. Unless you can agree on the fact that you have a problem and it’s a problem you actually have the power to solve, then you will never get full buy in on a solution.

Think about it. If you want teachers to work in PLC’s but your teachers don’t see the need to collaborate and don’t feel that there is anything wrong with the way that they are currently planning, then I guarantee your PLC’s will never work.

If you want teachers to differentiate instruction but teachers don’t believe that they can actually meet every student’s individual needs in their classroom for whatever reason, then I guarantee you won’t see true or consistant differentiation in your school.

Now here’s the opportunity. Now that you KNOW this, I bet you can look back over some of the push back you’ve gotten in the past and now realize that hey, the real reason people were pushing back is that you skipped getting agreement around the problem or helping people believe that they had the power to solve it.

Now that you understand these first two layers of resistance, you now know what you need to do to get those people on board. 

Let's Recap

Those first two layers of resistance one more time:

  • Layer One: People don’t believe they have a problem.
  • Layer Two: People may believe that they have a problem but think the problem is out of their hands.

Before we go, I want to leave with a caveat to keep in mind as you think about how to turn other people’s resistance into a real opportunity to get lasting buy in. Even if you do everything we’ve discussed today, the buy-in might not be instant. That’s because some people just need time.

Sometimes even if you’ve convinced them, people aren’t comfortable with letting go of their resistance and getting invested in the change you want to make right away. They need time to think things over and get used to the idea first. Don’t push them. I know I know “sense of urgency” and all that. But people need time.

Give it to them. Let them process. Don’t we tell teachers all the time that students need opportunities to process information? Well guess what? Adults need processing time too. Don’t rush them.

Okay, now before we go,

I want to remind you about Builder’s Lab 2019. If you are facing some push back this year, or you are about to embark on a big change and you want to avoid as much push back as possible, bring what you’re working on to Builder’s Lab and I’ll show you the exact steps you need to take overcome that push back and get your change off the ground this year.

Remember, Builder’s Lab is a small, intimate intensive where you can get coaching and support and personal attention so it’s the perfect place and time to step away from your busy school for a few days and get some perspective and support while you still have time to implement the changes this school year. You bring your biggest challenge to Builder’s Lab and together we’ll come up with a solid plan to help you implement the changes you are trying to make and get everyone on board and invested.

Don’t forget that the Early Bird ticket price expires October 17, 2018 that’s today if you are listening to this podcast in real time. Visit https://mindstepsinc.com/builders-lab/ to get your ticket today.

Next week...

We’re going to finish tackling the 6 layers of resistance by talking about resistance around the solution so I hope you’ll join me again next week for that. 

Bye for now. See you next time. 

Thank you for listening to the School Leadership Reimagined podcast for show notes and free downloads visit https://schoolleadershipreimagined.com/

School Leadership Reimagined is brought to you by Mindsteps Inc, where we build a master teachers.