The contents of this article come from excerpts of an essay written by Landmark Forum leader Randy McNamara and co-authors Laurie and Jeffrey Ford. The theme of their essay is resistance to change, and how different types of resistance to change arise out of different contexts or worldviews.

Resistance to change has generally been understood as a result of personal experiences and assessments about the reliability of others. Accordingly, attempts are made to alter these factors in order to win support and overcome resistance. But this understanding ignores resistance as a socially constructed reality in which people are responding more to the background conversations in which the change is being initiated than to the change itself.

This paper proposes that resistance to change is a function of the background conversations that are ongoingly being spoken and which create the context for both the change initiative and the responses to it. In this context, resistance is not a personal phenomenon, but a social systemic one in which resistance is maintained by the background conversations of the organization.

A background conversation is an implicit, unspoken “back drop” or “background” against which explicit, foreground conversations occur; it is both a context and a reality. Background conversations are a result of our experience within a tradition that is both direct and inherited, and provide a space of possibilities that will direct the way we listen to what is said and what is unsaid.

To participate in a reality is to be given by its background conversations, and to borrow from the idioms and appropriate forms of talk that are already in place, already there in the background. Different realities have different frameworks and vocabularies, different rules and moves in which people speak and act and that constitute a particular form of life.

What is significant for our purposes is that each reality produces a particular view of life within which what is said derives meaning from the background conversations or context in which it is said, not from a one-to-one relationship with the objects and actions they denote in the observable world. There is no inherent meaning, no inherent essences that we uncover, only the meaning that is created through our ongoing interactions and understandings within the historical development of specific realities.

We act correlate to the conversations that give us the world, not to an external world of objects, nor to an internal world of feelings, thoughts or meanings. Different background conversations constitute different contexts and give different realities that frame any change initiative and “give” people their vocabularies for action and reaction. People within different background conversations draw different conclusions from the same physical evidence.

Resistance to change, therefore, can be seen as a function of different background conversations, which conversations constitute different realities for their participants. And, there is a particular coherence given by the background conversations such that within that reality, everything is appropriate. This means that it is very difficult to challenge one reality from the point of view of another.

This abbreviated version of this McNamara/Ford/Ford paper will continue in part B.

Author's Bio: 

The author is a writer and world traveler who enjoys writing about people and communities coming together.