Handling Resistance to Change–Don’t Play Yes, But Game

“In times of profound change, the learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” Eric Hoffer

We have all experienced the interaction with a friend who is asking for help, but every suggestion is greet with–Yes that’s a good idea, but… and now come the reasons and excuses why your idea stinks. The way through this game is to stop playing it or confronting your friend by asking: How is the way your operating now working for you? A variation would be to ask on a one-ten how is this approach working or helping you reach your goals.

Another approach is to respond not with a common sense solution but an unexpected and uncommon response–like you need to go slow or I don’t think this is a good time to be contemplating a job change. This approach is called utilizing resistance  to change by reframing.  As nonsensical as it may sound to you, many people ask for advice not for the purpose of resolving a problem and changing themselves or the situation. They want some other payoff. Focusing on the content of the problem and why they would do this is a trap for the advice giver because it leads into an endless cycle of what Eric Berne, in his extraordinary book on interpersonal communication Games People Play, called “Why don’t you–yes but game.  What the person is doing is doing to solve the problem is not working and yet they want validation that nothing can be done to solve their problem because they are facing an unsolvable situation. They are seeking other payoffs than really solving the problem, for example an ongoing emotional  relationship with you feeling sorrow for them.

Generally, when someone ask for help or advice this leads to a common sense response from most of us. We try to help. Yet upon offering to help we get trap in an unending resistance and many reasons why our advice won’t work. This then leads to more advice giving and more demands for “better” help and so on. What the problem solver doesn’t understand is that their is an emotional payoff for playing this game.  So the only way through the game is to stop giving him common sense advice. One straight forward response is to just listen and give no advice. Another is to reframe the interaction by challenging them to not change or asking them the simple question–Why should you change? For the help seeker and Yes, but game player they are not prepared for this shift because they assumed you agreed to the premise that they must change their awful situation. You now have changed the game and thus the interaction.

So in next week when someone is playing the Yes, But Game see if you can leave the expected frame of reason and common sense of trying to convince them of your point of view and ask them a simple question like the following–What would I have to say or do for you to try out my suggestion? This approach will shift the discussion by using the other person’s resistance to change to getting more involved in creating their own solution for change and action. This will eliminate the payoffs of “poor me” I can’t do or try that idea , reduce frustration and hopefully add value to the communication. Maybe even go so far as to save the relationship. Good Luck and let us hear your stories for improving motivation for change.


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