This is the title of a paragraph in Peter Block’s book ‘Flawless Consulting’. He warns against the paranoid habit of some consultants interpreting every line manager’s objections as resistance. Resistance is often a label used by consultants who want to be right – in spite of the customer relationship.
Here’s a quote of that paragraph:
As Freud once said when he was asked whether the cigar he was smoking was also a phallic symbol, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar”; sometimes client objections are not resistance. The client just doesn’t want to do the project.
We can all become paranoid by interpreting every line manager’s objections as resistance covering some underlying anxieties. If a manager says directly, “No, I do not choose to begin this project. I don’t believe in it”, that is not resistance. There is nothing in that statement that blames the consultant or presses the responsibility for the difficulties on the consultant. The manager is taking responsibility for his or her own organization and has a right to choose. If we think it is the wrong choice, well that’s life.
We are getting paid to consult, not to manage. If a manager says to me, “I am too vulnerable a position to begin this project now”, I feel appreciative of the direct expression. I know where I stand with that manager. I don’t have to worry whether I should have done something differently. I also feel the manager understands the project and knows the risks, and it turned out that the risks were just too high. I may be disappointed that the project didn’t go, but the process was flawless.
As I said before, you should always suspect yourself first before jumping to conclusions, like the two consultants above are doing…