“Dad, come here. I want to show you something,” my 5-year-old son pleaded, his voice cracking with frustration. We were both upset. His frustration was the result of just being scolded, a scolding he had received one too many times. My frustration stemmed from having to do the scolding, one too many times.
We had been battling over bath towels being left on the bathroom floor for quite some time now. My daughter and son felt it wasn’t necessary to hang them up after use. I, in turn, would walk in and step in one of those invisible puddles of water they left behind, while almost tripping over a towel or two. I would get mad, shout out a few kind words, hang up the towels, and then change out of my wet socks.
Just days earlier I came to the conclusion that this cycle had gone on far too long. They were old enough now to hang up their own towels. It was time for a change. I communicated the new family policy: “Towels are no longer allowed on the floor and should be hung up on the towel hooks.”
Alas, here we were again, battling over this same issue. As I followed him into the bathroom I expected to hear a 5-year-old’s fascinating story (or excuse) why his towel was left on the floor. He picked it up and approached the hooks on the back of the bathroom door. Up he went onto his tip toes and as he came up short he said, “Dad, I can’t reach it.” As the towel hit the floor, so did my jaw. I had completely missed the fact the he wasn’t tall enough to hang up his towel.
I thought he was resisting because he was lazy, or simply didn’t care or thought that I would do it for him. I couldn’t have been further from the truth. After I ate a big helping of humble pie, we talked and I learned that he knew he was supposed to hang his towel up, and he wanted to hang it up but he simply couldn’t. He wasn’t capable of making the change.
This happens in our workplace more often than we think. When we see employees resisting change, it is far too easy to jump to the conclusion that they resist because they don’t like it, don’t want it or like the old way better. We, in turn, think that if we communicate more, or apply more pressure, that the change will occur. If we don’t seek out and address the root cause of resistance, we end up with no change and frustrated managers and employees.
The next time you experience resistance, take a moment to understand what is driving the push back. You, too, just might find that a $20 folding step stool is all that is needed to get a towel off the floor and on the hook.
As principal consultant for Life Cycle Engineering, Jeff Nevenhoven develops solutions that align organizational systems, structures, controls and leadership styles with a company’s business vision and performance objectives. Jeff’s experience enables him to work effectively with employees throughout an organization to implement solutions that remove functional barriers and prepare and lead people through sustaining change. You can reach Jeff at [email protected].