16 Expressions of Underhanded Resistance Pt. 1
Underhanded resistance happens when people say yes, but really mean no.
Resistance is expected, normal, even healthy.
Underhanded resistance distracts and destroys.
Leaders chase ghosts, when they don’t see underhanded resistance.
People say they want change. In truth, most want others to change.
Underhanded resistance feels safer than:
- Expressing disagreement with the boss.
- Acknowledging ineffectiveness.
- Stepping into the unknown*.
- Taking on new challenges.
- Appearing inadequate.
- Losing control.
*All change has an element of uncertainty.
A secretary told me that when she doesn’t want to do what her boss wants, she plays dumb. She asks lots of questions – comes back later with more questions. Eventually, he finds someone else to do it or does it himself.
Underhanded resistance is nodding agreement while standing opposed.
16 expressions of underhanded resistance:
- Quick passionless agreement. Lack of objection.
- Acting concerned. “I just want us to succeed.”
- Drive for definitions. “I’m not sure what you mean by….”
- Recurring confusion. A little confusion is normal. Constant confusion is resistance.
- Expanding scope. Turning small projects into global efforts keeps everyone’s wheels spinning.
- Theories that explain what others should do.
- Detail, detail, detail. Bury everyone in detail. Ask for more detail.
- Blame. “Those people.”
- Others don’t get it. “I’m not responsible. It’s those ignorant others.”
- “Just tell me what to do.”
- Rush to solutions. We don’t need to discuss this uncomfortable topic.
- You’re always right.
- Minimizing problems. The problem isn’t that bad.
- Declaring early victory. Things are so much better. We don’t need to keep going.
- Recurring need for clarification.
- Foot dragging.
It takes humility, courage, and optimism to say, this isn’t working and I’m part of it.
Read part 2 here.
What types of underhanded resistance show up most in your organization?
How do you deal with underhanded resistance?
The bit of underhanded resistance I see generally revolves around getting out in one piece.
“It takes humility, courage, and optimism to say, this isn’t working and I’m part of it”
Saying that when it will be defined as your fault and the leadership will hang you out to dry to protect itself doesn’t require courage. It needs you to have no sense of self preservation.
Thanks Mitch. You left such a powerful, transparent comment. Self-preservation is one of the motivators for underhanded resistance. Sadly, it’s one reason organizations repeat ineffective behaviors and cling to systems that don’t work.
You’re comment also reminds me of the powerful influence leaders have on the types of interactions they experience.
Thanks again. Tomorrow, I’ll be writing on this topic again. I hope you chime in with some alternatives to underhanded resistance, as well as, suggestions for how leaders can navigate this delicate topic.
I’m looking forward to reading more on this tomorrow, Dan. I have been a part of this in the past, but it was with a boss (she was doing showing it to me, not vice versa). Unfortunately, I guess I did it, too, because I never dug into it. Hard to know what to do in that case, when an employee wants to please the boss…
Dan, it’s critical to understand (as far as possible) what the fallout and impact of failure will be and ask where it’s going to fall. It’s very easy for leaders to ask (demand?) other people take the risks!
The other thing to watch for is if you have someone who will do something regardless of the impact on them, are they someone you want taking forward a high-risk operation?
“My part of it” was encouraging my nonprofit board of directors to adopt at least a few best practices for high performing boards–and thinking that of course they’d want to operate using best practices. My board members said they wanted to be a high performing board, but their actions sure didn’t feel that way. Then I was unceremoniously dismissed, very much unexpectedly and right in the middle of working with a governance consultant. Managing up, and leading up, is a perilous endeavor and one I surely have not mastered.(Yet!)
Thanks Anon. Your comment is so helpful, even if it came to you through pain.
It’s easy to believe that others are as excited about change as we are. We believe their smiles and nods. Your comment is a sober reminder of the danger of introducing change, especially if that change hints that others could do better.
Really enjoyed the article Dan. Makes me think of “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team,” by Pat Lencioni. People that play this game are usually afraid of making a commitment for some reason. Or they are not really in support of an activity, but it is being forced by someone higher in the organization, or someone with more influence.
Thanks Jay. I read fear and coercion in your comment. Leaders, to large degree, create the interactions they experience. I’m not suggesting that it’s always our responsibility when others pretend to agree but secretly undermine decisions. But, we play a role.
Play dumb, it can’t be done, there is no other option and the same old story, ‘we are doing the best we can and can do no better”, even if there is a better and more efficient move to take. The vision-less always find it hard to change. The reason? Vision-less, they simply can’t see or worse, don’t want to. Good article.
I’m looking forward to the remainder of your article tomorrow Dan, it’s shining a bright light on a topic that far too often lives in the shadows and sabotages our collective effort. Encouraging and seeking out the input of the team helps promote buy-in and minimize the resistance, but I realize that as much as I encourage it, the passive, underhanded resistance still takes place. Your article is a good reminder and confirmation of that, and in some ways I had’nt thought about.
The wise leader creates the space for objections and encourages them by asking questions about potential negative or unintended consequences – then welcomes the input
Absolutely true. But people will still practice passive aggression by feigning acquiescence.
Dan, your plain language and relevant examples enable me to see my own (gulp) and others’ behaviors. But you always provide helpful insights and alternatives to help people grow. Reading your blog is always growth-spurring—even when it feels like a spur in my side. (o;
Based on some of the previous comments, it becomes clear that stepping out and being courageous is not without consequences. I have experienced similar reactions to speaking the truth and supporting change, and sometimes with similar outcomes. Do I regret the risk? No. Can I learn more about how to begin change within myself and how to serve more as an influencer for change? Yes. There are no simple or pat answers, but I prefer to remain true to my beliefs, respectful, and hope that my honesty planted seeds for future thought and action.
My question is, what does one do when you see these traits in yourself? 😔