Trainee Resistance: an alternative approach by Professor Raanan Lipshitz

By Anne Sexton - Last update

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A brief overview of an alternative strategy for dealing positively with trainee resistance, developed by Professor Raanan Lipshitz of Haifa University.

Kurt Lewin’s unfreezing

Professor Raanan Lipshitz of Haifa University has published extensively on ways to approach trainee resistance without acknowledging it. As a result, trainers can keep the focus on learning.

This differs from most approaches for dealing with trainee resistance. These encourage trainers to expose resistance and overtly work through it. Many of these strategies, including small-group work, experiential exercises, and team goal setting, use Kurt Lewin’s concept of “unfreezing.”

Unfreezing techniques prioritise bringing trainee resistance to the surface and using this knowledge to come to a positive and mutual understanding.

Lipshitz believes those approaches are questionable for two reasons. Firstly, he claims that “they are not practical for short-term, substantive training programmes in which goals and content are determined in advance. Dealing with the resistance can dominate the training program or even become its hidden agenda.” In short he questions, “the basic assumption that surfacing and working through resistance are prerequisites for learning.”

Secondly, he believes that resistance is a positive, healthy reaction. It enables trainees to deal with challenging situations. He explains that “rather than launching a frontal attack on a person’s defenses, he attempts to ‘infiltrate behind the lines’, to interject new ideas, and to facilitate change.”

Lipshitz’s ‘nonconfrontive strategies’ fall into three main categories: preventing resistance; circumventing resistance; and utilising resistance.

Preventing resistance

Lipshitz outlines how his “prevention strategies deal with known or potential sources of resistance before the actual training begins. They are particularly useful when the sources of resistance are predictable and well understood. We have developed five techniques for preventing resistance: distracting, assuming a ‘one-down’ position, baiting, preempting, and linking. Although the strategies can be implemented at any time during training, they are particularly effective during the first training session or a preparatory meeting.”

Lipshitz explains that whereas, “prevention strategies can help trainers avoid the more predictable manifestations of resistance, they cannot eliminate it. A trainer who directly confronts the resistance risks escalating it and shifting the focus away from substantive issues.”

Circumventing resistance

He suggests that, instead of confronting resistant trainees, trainers should circumvent resistance.

“Circumventing does not imply ignoring resistance that arises during a training program. Rather, it attempts to keep the workshop on target by not focusing on resistance.”

Utilising resistance

In his third strategy, Lipshiltz explains utilising resistance as meaning “treating resistance as substantive agreement. On the basis of behavioral cues, such as tone of voice, body language, or persistence, we often interpret a participant’s strong disagreement as resistance (defensiveness, bids for control, etc. ). Rather than interpreting that behavior as resistance and trying to work it through, we acknowledge the participant’s argument, magnify the substantive elements in it, and build on it further in any way possible.”

Anne Sexton

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