Home/Back To Basics Executive Coaching Series – The Cycle of Resistance will help you Introduce Change

Back To Basics Executive Coaching Series – The Cycle of Resistance will help you Introduce Change

My name is Sari van Poelje I’m the CEO of Intact Academy. We give training programs for coaches and consultants all over the world, from beginner coach to team coach to organizational consultancy. My other business is Team Agility. I’m an Agile Business Innovation Designer: I help companies innovate their business more quickly than their products. 

Transactional Analysis is one of the tools we use in executive coaching or team coaching to help businesses transform. We just talked about discounting, which is a way to ignore the information in the environment that could help you solve a problem. It’s one of the biggest issues in businesses because all the information is at hand, but people don’t use it to think clearly to solve problems. 

There are different levels of discounting. Mellor and Schiff[1] talked about the discount matrix with modes or levels of discounting such as the existence of significance, change possibilities, etc. I find this matrix very interesting but a bit too complicated to use in business. In my team and executive coaching work I transformed the discount matrix into what I call the cycle of resistance. 

Sometimes when change is introduced people resist. I always think, it’s great people are resisting because it means there’s energy there. For me resistance is an archaic result of the way you introduce change. I don’t think people are naturally resistant to change, though some people might want to maintain status quo. But the way you introduce change is a really important factor both in team coaching and in organizational development. 

You can use the cycle of resistance to understand how to introduce change in a better way. 


  • Cycle Of Resistance (Discounting) vs Accounting


Let’s take an example to go through the cycle: you want to stop smoking. 

  1. Discount Situation: In this phase people do not acknowledge the factual reality of their situation. So they say, “I don’t actually smoke that much. Just one or two packs a day, that’s not a lot.” An organizational example could be when leaders discount that their competitors are better and quicker, or that their productivity is lagging or their employees miss competencies. 

As a consultant or a coach, the first thing you have to do is to help people take into account all the factors in the situation. 

You ask how much they smoke? A pack a day. You ask how big the pack is. 24 cigarettes. As a coach I would say, “So 24 cigarettes is how many you smoked today, so let’s take that as a starting point for change.” 

  1. Discount the Problem: The second step in the cycle of resistance is that people discount the problem, “Yes, I smoke 24 cigarettes a day, but it’s not actually a problem. My grandfather smoked till he was 90. He never had a health problem. The research is inconclusive.”

It’s never enough in any change situation that people feel that it’s a general problem. This is really important: when you’re coaching it’s much more important that people feel what their problem with the situation is. 

I was coaching a guy to stop smoking who had all the usual excuses, discounting the problem. I asked him, “What’s your problem?” And he got really quiet and told me his first son had just been born, and he was really frightened that he’d get smoke in his lungs. Now that is a good reason to change. 

People will not change for generalized problems. They’ll only change for a problem that’s theirs, specific and painful enough to stimulate thinking about options. 

To be able to change you need a push and a pull factor. So people need to have a personalized problem: “Every time I climb the stairs I start to pant because I smoked so much.” That’s a personalized problem. People will change for that. Telling people it’s bad for their health will never change their behaviour. That’s a generalized problem. Besides the push factor, pain, and you need a pull factor, which is an ambition. The ambition should be in positive wording. My ambition is “not to smoke” won’t work. You need a positive personal goal, for example: I want to get healthy for my son. 

  1. Discounting options: The third stage in the cycle of a resistance is when people believe there are no alternatives or options. “I’ve tried everything. I’ve tried patches, I’ve tried acupuncture, I’ve tried walking, I’ve tried hypnosis. Nothing works for me.” This happens at a personal level, in teams, and in organizations: “We tried that 20 years ago. It didn’t work then and it won’t work now”

As a coach one of the ways to deal with this is to ask, “What did you do? What worked, what didn’t work? What’s left of the problem? What options do you have to tackle that?” 

It’s important to account for what people have already done because otherwise you’ll get into a discussion about methods and everything that didn’t work, which is not very productive. You’ll stay in the discounting stage. What you want is a conversation about what worked, what didn’t work and what’s left of the problem to solve?

Back to the guy who wanted to stop smoking: “I used to smoke two packs a day. I’m now down to one pack.”  How did you do that? “I used patches.” Did the patches work? “Oh yes.” He’s already in the accounting route. What’s left of the problem? “I still smoke 24 a day.” Where do you want to go? “I want to smoke 12 in a month’s time.” So what are the options for that? “I used patches before it worked, but I needed more to stop completely.” What more do you need? “I need to be coached.” What do you want? “I want a text every day to remind me about the health of my son.”

  1. Discounting responsibility: After finding a new option people often say, “But I’m actually not responsible for the problem (or the solution).”

Problem solving is a little bit like closing the gates behind the sheep. They go through one gate, and you close it behind them. They go through the next gate and suddenly start to realize that maybe there is an option, panic about the prospect of changing and start saying they’re not responsible. 

My client who wanted to stop smoking said: “If work wasn’t so stressful I wouldn’t have to smoke. And if my parents hadn’t shown me how to smoke, I wouldn’t be smoking in the first place.” If you’re in this funnel with the gates closing behind you and you realise you’re going to have to change now, this is an attempt to stay in resistance. 

I asked him: “Who in your life is responsible?” And introduced the circle of influence and circle of responsibility. 

The circle of influence on the problem is very big for my client – his grandparents smoked, his parents smoked, his boss was hounding him, he felt very stressed at work, he wasn’t sleeping very well because of the baby, he enjoyed the break standing outside to smoke. 

The circle of responsibility was much smaller because in the end of course he was the one buying the cigarettes every day. It became very clear to him that the only one who was responsible and able to actually solve this problem was him. 

Of course many people have influenced your behaviour today, but in the end you’re the only one who can change it. That’s a hard lesson for all of us.

  1. Discounting Resources: The last step in the cycle of resistance is discounting of the resources for change. 

My smoking client said, “There is an option, you know, with patches and coaching, I could reduce smoking further. Yes, many people influenced me and I am the only one responsible. But to be honest, I don’t have the time to do this. I don’t have the money to buy the patches. I don’t have the support in my family.”

When discounting resources it’s usually about time, money, support. This happens in organizations as well: “We should change this but I don’t have the time. There’s too much to do. We don’t have the resources to do it. We’re drowning in work. Our boss doesn’t support us.” 

If you keep on discounting your ability to solve problems as they come along, the problems become bigger and then yes, it is much more difficult. Solve them. 

After going through all the factors to see what my quit smoking client’s options were, I said: “You know you could you get more money for patches by buying fewer cigarettes. All the time you spend outside smoking cigarettes in secret adds up to about three hours a day, which you could get back by not smoking.” So that covered time and money, support was interesting because his wife was very much into complaining but not supporting. So he needed to have an accounting conversation with her to help her get out of the complaining racket and into the supporting function.

We resist and discount to stay in a racket or game, to not solve our problems. It’s a way of procrastinating. Hopefully when you go through accounting for situation, accounting for problem, accounting for options, responsibilities and resources, and by the end of that all the gates behind the sheep will be closed and there’s no other way than forwards.

[1] Jacqui Lee Schiff, Transactional Analysis Treatment of Psychosis, CathexisReader, Hardcover – 1975

Published On: February 11th, 2020By Categories: Leadership, Videos


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