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Why Do You Resist?

Psychologist Wil Calmus talks about the biggest problems in business.

Psychologist Wil Calmas counsels stock brokers, travel agents, and senior management teams. Most problems in business, he says, involve resistance. Here are the three most common forms of resistance, along with his prescriptions:

Authority Complex

From an early age, says Calmas, children are taught not to challenge authority. That lesson sticks. The result? Employees who don't want to "bother" managers with problems — or with new ideas and risky opportunities. Instead, they let issues fester — and keep good ideas to themselves.

The cure:

At NECX one can be fired only for substandard performance — never for just talking. "You need to establish a safe environment where people can voice their opinions and talk about conflicts," says Calmas.

High Anxiety

Fear of success is a classic resistance — and one particularly prevalent in the sales world, says Calmas: "A salesperson who has the best month in five years often regresses to the mean in the following month. The person feels uncomfortable with being number one. The spotlight means standing out — and being alone."

The cure:

First name the fear. Then talk your way through it. With Calmas's help, a man who was working for his father realized what was holding him back: "If I climb the ladder of success, when I get to the top, I'll be where my father is. If I want to be on top, I'll have to push him off." Calmas eased the man's worries: "One person's achievement doesn't take away from another's."

Transformation Fixation

Reactions to change are split between passive resistance and outright rebellion, Calmas says. Star performers are the ones most likely to flout new policies: they want to reaffirm that they're special.

The cure:

Address resistance to change before it spreads through the ranks and takes root. Calmas counsels managers to create forums to discuss change openly — and early.

A version of this article appeared in the December 1997/January 1998 issue of Fast Company magazine.