Resistance Empathy Map

Draw out and gain fresh insights about the experiences of those experiencing a change.

Transcript of video

In this training I want to explain to you the power of using the resistance empathy map to better understand why you might be getting certain behavioural pushback from certain members of your staff as your leading improvement, and therefore give you some insights about how you might develop a little bit more momentum.

Now, almost everything that matters in school change involves changing what other people do. Yes, we might be able to invest in structures and processes, but in the end, unless you’re moving what other people do, it’s very unlikely that you’re going to see sustained change. And so as you lead change and change that’s going to involve adult behaviour change. You should expect some pushback and some resistance. Now, when you are leading change, it’s so easy to receive this resistance as kind of negative feedback to get frustrated, to get annoyed to think, why can’t these people just get on board with this?

It’s clear why we need to head in this direction. And I think it’s really important to have a tool in your toolkit that you can use on your own or with a team over about just five to 10 minutes to attune with empathy. You do this so that you can better understand why you’re seeing the resistance and pushback that you’re getting and then develop a better pathway forward. And the Resistance Empathy Map is one of the easiest ways to do this work.

When you have a look at it and download it off the site or in the email, I want you just to pull it out and see the simplicity in it. And the map is really built on good thinking that comes out of design thinking methodology, which really helps us get close to people and ask some helpful questions about what’s happening for those people and how we might better understand, I suppose, their experience.

But in the end, the Resistance Empathy Map is first and foremost about attuning with empathy. A lot of people are going to demand a lot from you every day, and it’s very easy to actually run dry on your empathy tank. And so the empathy resistance map helps you to pause individually and as a team and just better understand why people might be responding the way they are to the change.

I love this quote from Seth Godin. He says, “Empathy doesn’t mean you like the person. It means you care enough about the outcome to put the effort in.” Now, of course, many of you have great connections with lots of members of your staff, but sometimes you are getting pushback from someone or a group of people and you think, this is just unprofessional. This is not a great interaction.

Quite frustrated, maybe even a bit angry at this person. I don’t want to be empathetic. I say, no, no. Now you really need to be empathetic, not because necessarily you’re saying that their behaviour is okay. We’re not saying that they can get away with it necessarily, or that they should be able to continue to do what they’re doing. But if you want to be successful in your change, you need to care enough to empathise in order to understand and then design a way forward that’s going to be more successful.

So here’s what you do in the work. Firstly, pick one improvement project that you’re focusing in on. Don’t do this generally, we’re not talking about thinking about individuals in general. We’re thinking about people’s responses to a specific change or improvement agenda That’s up to a specific phase in that work. And along the top, you can write out that improvement project and the date.

If you’re doing it on your own, think about two key people who are being personally impacted by that change, and you can just jot their initials down in the middle. This helps you be able to think about specific people or just write X and Y here for now, because we don’t necessarily need to talk about the individual’s name, but it is about being really clear about thinking through the lens of individual people, not just generalising. And then the empathy resistance map helps you move around. We start with things that we can observe, so things people say or things people do, and just jot down when we’re talking about this change agenda, when we’re engaging this, what do those people say? What does that person do? And then when we drop below the line, we’re thinking about inferences here. So we’re trying to infer we must be clear, we might be wrong here.

That’s why we need to empathise. And we’re trying to think about what they might be thinking. And of course, what is the emotional state that this change agenda is leading them to enter into? How do they feel? Now, you can just do this with one person. If you just want to do one box, I really like to do it with at least two because it really helps, I think, to get a bit of a sense of the similarities and differences and how people are experiencing this change. And if I’m doing this with a team, maybe 2, 3, 5 of us, we all pick different people. And then what we’ll do is we’ll talk and we’ll just say, the person I was thinking about what they say is this. What they do is this. What I think they might be thinking is this. And what I think they might be feeling is this. And we just move around and we start to flesh out that experience, what we actually think these people are going through. Now, this can be a really, really rich and very fast activity for attuning with empathy and better understanding the resistance behaviours and pushback that we are getting. And over time, what we can do is to develop a theory of resistance.

We can start to say, why do we think we’re starting to see this behaviour given our understanding of the emotional state people are in when we’re doing this? How they might be thinking about and how they’re responding. The goal of this resistance empathy map is to have a better understanding of people’s experience so that we can then better understand their behavioural patterns and we can take a more effective next set of steps going forward. The three simple questions we ask you to think about in this tool is what insights have you gained about the needs and experiences that the people being impacted by this change? What do these people need more of or less of in order to have a higher likelihood of positive engagement? This simple question can be a total breakthrough. What do these people need more of? What do they need less of? They might need more quick wins. They might need more scaffolding.

They might need clearer explanation. They might need more worked examples. They might need less nagging, they might need less steps in the process. They might need less things to do concurrently at this work. Maybe they need to have an experience of being able to do this without necessarily losing perceived status or feeling are very vulnerable, whatever it is. Have a think about this. And then question three, in what ways may our own beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours be contributing to their current patterns of resistance? This is a hard one. It’s drawn out of Robert Keegan’s work around immunity to change. And I think it’s crucial for us all to be aware that when we’re seeing behaviours, potentially behaviours that we don’t necessarily want to see in our context, we might be whether we’re aware of it or not contributing to that, we need to ask, how do my beliefs about this person, how the way I’m going about this work, how might that be also a contributing factor in what I see?

Well, there it is, the Resistance Empathy Map is a really simple tool to attune with empathy, to develop fresh insights and then to consider more effective steps going forward. When I run with this tool with teams, I always get people having new awareness and new understandings of why they’re seeing what they’re seeing across their team or across the staff. And we normally develop some simple next steps or small tweaks that we might need to make that might help more people take more positive steps in the change that we’re leading. So go on, give this a go in your context and let us know how it helps you lead change more effectively by tuning in with empathy.