Through several recent conversations on the Resistance as a Resource mailing list and other places, I've realized that I've written little about two enormously important factors that affect resistance: emotions and relationships. My article "Resistance as a Resource" barely mentions emotions and feelings, and offers only a few ideas about improving your relationships with the people you are asking to change. Emotions and relationships are two key areas in which I want to improve my approach to resistance.
My first improvement is to highly recommend the book Don't Be Nice, Be Real , by Kelly Bryson. I'll leave it to you to discover why Bryson recommends against being "nice" (those quotes around "nice" are a clue). I want to focus on just one of several important themes that run through the book: empathy. The theme of empathy weaves together the threads of emotions, values, needs, and relationships.
When you're responding to resistance, relationships matter a great deal. Your relationship with each person affects how you and the person interpret each other's words and actions. When you change your relationship, you change the conversation.
Bryson offers this idea about changing your relationships:
If I can change my image of you, you cannot help but change your image of me. (p 196)
So how can I change my image of another person? One way is to explore the needs behind the person's actions and to empathize with the needs.
Almost all the power to inspire compassion comes from expressing the need, and only a little from expressing the feeling. Also when I am listening to someone, it is much more powerful to demonstrate that I understand the other's need than it is to just show that I have heard their feeling. (p 99)
When Bryson talks about needs, he is talking not about specific behaviors or results that one person might want from another, but about universal human needs, such as honesty, connection, peace, physical wellbeing, autonomy, play, and meaning. (For a more detailed list of needs, see the Needs Inventory on the Center for Nonviolent Communication web site.)
Resistance expresses needs. If I can understand the universal human need that someone is expressing through resistance, I can empathize with it. And if I can express my empathy for the person's needs, I've taken a big step toward creating a relationship that supports trust, respect, communication, and collaboration.
How can you understand the needs that people are expressing through their resistance? My articles "Resistance as a Resource" and "Untangling Communication" give many ideas about that. Bryson offers an additional idea: guess.
You do not have to guess right. Just guess human. Just imagine a human feeling and need that might be behind their words. Guessing feelings and needs at least puts us in the camp of humanness, instead of judgment. (p 122)
The main focus of my "Resistance as a Resource" article is understanding the other person's point of view. Bryson has helped me to see that we can do even better than understanding. We can empathize.