Willing to Change

On the Mastering Project Work mailing list, Amy Schwab offered this nice quotation:

"A teacher of dialogue put it this way, 'You are only listening to the extent that you are willing to be changed by the conversation.'"

This lovely idea helps me to understand an important element of resistance. When I interpret another person's actions as resistance, that's a signal that I am listening from a fixed perspective, a perspective in which my goal is to influence the other person to change. Interpreting the actions as resistance separates me from the other person's point of view, and reinforces my own. This reinforcement is not just the outcome of using the word resistance; it is the purpose. I call the person's actions resistance in order to hold onto my goal, in order not to change. I call another's actions resistance in order to resist being changed.

When I define my goal as influencing another person to change, I limit my options. Holding tightly to this goal leaves me with only one way to get what I want: The other person must change.

If I am willing to listen fully to the other person, if I am willing to be changed, I open up new possibilities for resolving "resistance." For example, I may learn new information that shows that the change I am promoting is not such a good idea after all. I may discover that the change includes some element that is unimportant to me, but creates a big problem for the other person, and that a simple adjustment would eliminate the problem. Or the other person may offer an idea that is even better than the one I was promoting. Or the two of us may create new ideas together, ideas that satisfy both of us.

In each of these cases, the "resistance" vanishes. Each of these happy outcomes is possible only if I am willing to allow myself to be changed.

Experiment: Recall a recent experience in which someone resisted your proposal or request. How important was it for you to influence the other person to change? What made that so important to you?

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