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No. 22 – Resistance – The American Way

March 23, 2011

How do people respond when you give them advice about required radiation safety practices? Do they readily comply or do they seem to resist? You should not be surprised if you meet with resistance, because resistance is the American way.

Americans traditionally do not like to be told what to do. We do not like to be “sold or told” anything. We especially do not like to feel coerced, threatened, or frightened into taking any action. We naturally resist advice or recommendations that sound like a demand, even when it’s in our best interest. Words such as “should, must, have to, and ought to,” all lead to resistance. Such words do not sit well with Americans. How did the U.S. respond to threats of coercion from Iraq? No one is going to push us around.
How do Americans respond to warnings to stop smoking, stop drinking, lose weight, exercise, reduce cholesterol, drive 55, buckle up, and wear a safety helmet? Before you answer, think of how many of these warnings you follow routinely.

Inside each of us is a rebellious child. We may look like adults on the outside; we may even exhibit social manners. But, on the inside of each of us is a rebellious child that never got past the terrible two’s. When the average American is given a warning, such as “you need to lose weight,” their internal response is, “I don’t Have To and You Can’t Make Me!!!”

We not only resist demands; we often do exactly the opposite. As Americans we are determined to “do our own thing.” If the speed limit is 55, we will drive 65. When carmakers installed seat belt warning chimes, we figured out how to disconnect them so we could avoid wearing the seat belt. The surest way to get people to touch something is to put up a sign saying, “DO NOT TOUCH.”

Do we resist admonitions for our safety because we do not care for our safety? Of course not! But, we want to decide safety issues for ourselves, in our own good time, in our own good way, and when we feel like it.

As an instructor, I also note that people have a natural resistance to learning new communications skills. We often resist those demands that seem to require more energy. Consequently, we have a certain amount of inertia towards advice for us to “think new thoughts, learn new skills, or communicate in ways that are different than our normal way.”

For example, I once led a training session on hearing and reflecting feelings. After the session, one student announced that this was all very interesting but he would never use the techniques for reflective listening. And yet he paid to come to a workshop to learn new communications skills.

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2 Comments
  1. Jean Staton permalink

    I’m curious if the “student” paid his/her way to class or his/her company. What was the reasoning for not doing it that way? We run across numerous people like that.

    • You have raised a good question about the student’s motivation. In this case the student was attending as the head of human resources for a very large organization. This person had strong ideas of how to best respond to people and was not interested in learning new approaches such as reflective listening..

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