Be brave, don’t answer back and don’t wilt!

We have written a lot about Opposing as a vocal act that provides correction to a direction that has been set in conversation and its critical importance in the organisations and systems we live and work in. However, we have pretty much exclusively focused on the Oppose when people are in low stakes. Much less has been said about the experience of Opposing or being Opposed when the stakes are high, which can be a wholly different experience.

Jung’s concept of ‘Shadow Behaviour’ is helpful to us when thinking about high-stakes reactivity. Shadow behaviour is the behaviour we exhibit that we are least proud of. It’s those times when we perhaps come away from an interaction and feel some embarrassment, regret or shame about what we said or how we said it. It may take us a while to recover from the experience and it may leave some kind of mark on us or indeed the other person.

When we are in high stakes, shadow behaviour can manifest in many different ways. David Kantor’s ‘Heroic Modes’ are helpful in being able to name and make sense of what can often be very confusing and harmful behaviours that show up when we least expect them to. These are the Protector, Fixer and Survivor. In the light zone in Kantor’s model, the Protectors will do everything possible to shield themselves and others from harm. The Fixers will set out to conquer all enemies and overcome adversity at all cost, and the Survivors will endure in extraordinary ways, because of their dedication to a cause and focus on getting through oppression and aggression. But in the shadow zone, the Fixer can become aggressive and abusive, the Protector an unforgiving maudlin victim whilst the Survivor withdraws or abandons.

The Oppose expressed in the shadow zone suddenly takes on a wholly different form and the vocal tone is very different:

  • Fixer: cruel, offensive and filled with rage
  • Protector: vengeful, pessimistic and accusatory
  • Survivor: critical, self-righteous and obstinate

When leading behavioural change interventions and being faced with the manifestation of any of these high-stakes behaviours in the room, which at times may be directed right at you, what helps is to:

  • Be greater than the greatest disturbance that is showing up at any given moment. To achieve this, we have to be brave. It’s also really important not to answer back but it’s equally imperative not to wilt!
  • Read and work with the behaviour structurally [using Structural Dynamics]
  • Avoid moral judgement of the behaviour because of the way this fans the flames of high-stakes and makes things worse
  • Know how to lower the stakes for self and others, for example, by remembering to slow the pace down and name what we are noticing including the escalation of high stakes and our reaction to it [Bystand in Meaning]
  • Know the Self broadly and deeply including the childhood stories and their accompanying old internal narratives that play such an integral part in high stakes reactivity
  • Always remember that in the face of very high stakes behaviour there is a childhood story in the room. This helps us to locate empathy for the other and as a result to lower the stakes for ourselves and others.
  • Suspend rather than Defend. If I choose to defend, then I choose to protect and uphold a particular position or perspective. In contrast, if I choose to suspend, then I am more open. Contributions build upon contributions, and new insights emerge. By choosing to defend, we inadvertently narrow the range of possible outcomes. People don’t feel their views will be welcomed and may choose not to engage.


Further Reading available via Amazon

Hill, S. [2017] Where Did You Learn To Behave Like That? A Coaching Guide for Working with Leaders

Lawrence, P & Hill, S et al [2019] The Tao of Dialogue