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Progress comes from the intelligent use of experience. Elbert Hubbard

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How can opposition be seen as an opportunity to unite the majority around a project?


Author(s): John P. Kotter, Lorne A. Whitehead

Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press

Date of publication: 2010

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John Kotter and Lorne Whitehead use a fable to sensitize readers to the unproductive reflexes that guide our reactions when we are faced with fierce opposition to the projects we lead. Opposition can be virulent, rightly or wrongly appear to be in bad faith, and be based on facts or mere convictions. Always unpleasant, it can be particularly destructive if poorly managed. However, our natural reflexes are generally not well-suited.

For example, counterattacking, pointing out the other person’s bad faith or mistakes, and arguing to try to convince the other person at any price are not particularly effective, because the means to stop a good idea are not necessarily logical. Creating constant delays, playing on irrational fears, sowing confusion or personally discrediting the originator of the idea are just a few commonly used sabotage tactics that work extremely well.

The authors thus suggest a counter-intuitive strategy to fend off these attacks. Counterintuitive, because opposition and criticism are not considered a problem, but rather an opportunity to garner majority support for the project. This approach requires listening to objections respectfully, encouraging opponents to explain their views in precise detail. It then becomes possible for the project leader to address them simply and directly, and subsequently reassert his or her viewpoint while showing that he or she is aware of divergent feelings and opinions.

A short book, easy to read, which leaves a lasting awareness that opposition to any change project is normal and legitimate and its expression should be welcomed in order to increase the chances of success.