When we meet “Resistance” – is it really resistance and is it connected at all to Layers of Resistance?

21 September 2017, Jelena Fedurko-Cohen 

In my experience, in TOC community, the phrase “Layers of resistance” is used quite often in situations when a person just encounters a disagreement in the process of communication or absence of the desired behaviour.  And quite often, after this phrase is used, people start referring to the TP tools that are used to deal with every specific Layer of Resistance.

Here are the common mistakes:

1. Confusion of Entity Existence Category of Legitimate Reservations with resistance and conflict

Recently, in one of discussions in our Facebook group TOC Practitioners Worldwide a person referred to my previous comment saying “you said so and so”. Since what I had said in reality was not what was quoted, I wrote back “No, I did not say that.” A third person referred to this as a conflict. I responded that I saw no conflict and received an immediate comment that I was on “Layer 0 of the layers of resistance”, The person referred to “There is no problem”, the zero step of the 9-step variation of Layers of Resistance.

This is a vivid example of confusing ‘resistance’ and ‘conflict’ with using Categories of Legitimate Reservations.

I was disagreeing with the statement that said that I had written what I had not. In effect, what I did after reading the incorrect quote – I used the Category of Legitimate Reservations (CLR) that deals with Entity Existence. Since what was quoted as my words could not have been what I could have said, I went to the history of the discussion, found my comment and got the proof that what was quoted was NOT what I had said. Hence, what was presented in the entity as my words – did NOT EXIST in reality. My stating “I did not say that” was the outcome of the CLR check.

My establishing non-existence of the entity was NOT BEING IN CONFLICT with the person who presented that entity. DEMONSTRATING NON-EXISTENCE OF A CLAIMED ENTITY IS NOT BEING IN CONFLICT!

My stating that I saw no conflict was the outcome of the Entity Existence CLR. It had nothing to do with resistance.

The above example demonstrates another common mistake:

2. Lack of understanding that Layers of Resistance deal with NOT AGREEING WITH THE SUGGESTED SOLUTION TO A PROBLEM, and NOT just with ANY ‘NO’ in any context

Before suggesting/using/referring to Layers of Resistance, it helps to check if the situation is about a suggested solution to a problem, or not.

NOT every “No” means resistance, or resistance to a suggested solution.

For example, you are checking in a hotel. A receptionist asks you “You have booked for two nights?” and you say “No, for one”. The NO is there. However, it has nothing to do with resistance.

Or: “Would you like some tea?” “No, thank you”. This is also not resistance.

Or a sign in an airport “These items are not allowed in carry-on baggage”.  The “NOT” is there, however, it is also not resistance.

Another common mistake:

3. Confusion of INABILITY to produce desired behavior with resistance

Recently I have had a good discussion with Sadashiv Pandit on the topic that some TOC implementations do not happen holistically or do not sustain.

Sadashiv raised two important issues in reference with Layers of resistance and buy-in.

  • The first one is about the need to know skills and knowledge of a person to whom a task is assigned.

Sadashiv wrote:  “When we look at the process of ‘layers of resistance’ or buying in, I often find it difficult to believe that we can get the buying in so easily , with the current tools like 2×2 etc etc. A lot depends on the ‘knowledge, skill’ of the receiver+ a business need.’ I being from HR back ground, feel that without knowing the knowledge n skill, the business case alone can not give the impact we want. Unless we identify the gap in knowledge n skill vis a vis what task some one needs to own and why that needs to be owned [business need], buying in to happen is difficult. Let us take an example that we want xyzzy to do say task ABC. First thing is…what knowledge n skill that task requires, what that person has, what gap needs to be filled and why this task to be performed…these r the things required for the ‘buying in’ to happen. We try to simplify the HR process thru ‘yes but’ and that does not take u to the knowledge n skill gap but it takes u to ‘why to do that task’.”

I responded:

“I see having the knowledge of the skills of a person to be given a task as a must and a prerequisite to assigning the task. In other words – it is BEFORE thinking who to assign to, not AFTER. Therefore, I cannot see it as ‘resistance’ when a person does not do or does not want to do the task because they do not have skills to perform this task. For me it is capacity planning and management. In a plant it would be funny to assign a job to a machine that does not have a ‘skill’ to perform it. One does not expect an oven to do the ironing job.”

  • The second issue raised by Sadashiv is about the knowledge and skills of decision makers:

Sadashiv wrote: “When we ask some one to follow TOC [I am talking about decision makers], we have to assume that they have the knowledge n skills. […] If we do not know the level of person we r talking, assuming he/she says ‘yes’, still the what n how connections in their mind any way derail the project. […] Unless we factor in buying in with understanding of cognitive capabilities, we might not progress or sustain.”

This is what I responded:

“As I see it – the ‘buy-in process’ is relevant only when someone does not want to buy – does not see the need or has objections. There is a fundamental difference

  • when someone does not have the relevant knowledge of the content, mechanics or benefits of the suggested solution, and
  • when someone does NOT WANT to buy it – AFTER having the knowledge.

In the first case it makes no sense to go for ‘selling’. It is enough to present the solution (the knowledge). In this case the core content of the presentation is aimed at ‘average’ – as we do not know and cannot know the level of knowledge of that person and the speed of grasping the new knowledge. However, in the PROCESS of presenting, the presenter should know the signals that will indicate where the listener is, and the presenter should have knowledge and skills to adjust the presentation to the listener. This is not ‘selling’, in my views, and in my practice.”

I would like to expand here on my statement “When someone does not have the relevant knowledge, it is enough to present the solution without going for ‘selling’ it.”

To say that the solution will work in a specific environment, the presenter should have thorough understanding of this environment and the way how THIS solution will make the life of the decision maker fundamentally better and easier. In other words, the presenter MUST KNOW which problem(s) will be removed, what will be the benefits for the stakeholders, how the solution will stay sustainable, what will prevent the solution from bringing potential negative outcomes, and that the solution is doable.

I completely agree with Sadashiv: if we do not know how to recognize in the course of presenting where the listener (decision-maker) is in their thinking and what unspoken “hows” and “whats” they assume, what we will end up with – the “seller” will be content that he/she pushed for “go TOC” and managed to sell, and the decision maker will have their own expectations of what and how.

However, if the solution of the seller and the assumptions of the buyer (decision-maker) do not fully match and in the course of implementation the team cannot recognize the signals that there is a mismatch – the implementation cannot be successful or sustainable.

Regarding difficulty in sustaining TOC in companies, I do not think that it is because of the buy-in level of the decision maker. When we say “sustain”, it means that the target result has already been achieved. There are many different reasons for not sustaining. Probably most common – the decision-maker has left the company or the position, and their successor does not know TOC and does not feel that they should know it. Their position is fully justified. The company has hired (or promoted) them to  this position on the grounds of their previous merits – knowledge, experience, references. They know how to do their job their way. And the company has demonstrated its confidence in THEIR WAY by officially giving them authority to manage a certain part of the system. Probably, in such a case, the issue is not ‘buy-in’, but the policy that determines when and how a successor is brought to a company or how to determine requirements towards a candidate in the recruiting process.

When I was about to post this, Sadashiv wrote to me in continuation of our discussion saying “We have not understood that TOC is a ‘change management intervention’ and it has to happen HR management way. When we say HR, it means…connection to knowledge, cognitive skills, gaps, training programs, training methods, learning principles, evaluation methods, content and transfer validity. If we miss any of above, we r back to Zero.”

I completely agree that what Sadashiv lists should be done in companies in a focused way to ensure the internal TOC leaders succession process.

Sadashiv, thank you.

Watch Jelena’s webinar Insights into handling people’s Yes… But



Jelena Fedurko-Cohen, 21 September 2017

1 reply
  1. Madan Gopal Agarwal
    Madan Gopal Agarwal says:

    Jelena, very useful insight and refresher…Resistance is specifically related to Problem/Proposed Solution…Acceptance/Not Acceptance I.e. buy-in. All other NO and NOT need to be seen in related co texts. We faced this in 2-3 implementations.


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