Building support | Te whakapiki

Building support requires engaging the persuadables while supporting the willing.

Some people will be committed to the status quo because it aligns with their interests or values. Others might accept the need for change but be anxious about it. In either case, this can produce various degrees of reluctance, resistance or even backlash.

The emergence of new technologies, practices and ways of living is only half the transition story. The other half is the disruption to current technologies, practices and ways of living. Disruption implies chaos, which many will resist, but you can embrace it as an opportunity for creative solutions and innovation.

Major transitions are not straightforward because current systems, practices and technologies have the advantage of being well served by existing infrastructure, market structures and regulatory frameworks. They are embedded in social norms, habits and mindsets, all of which support their ongoing dominance.

For new systems, practices or technologies to scale up, existing ways of doing things must be disrupted through policy interventions, new business models, public pressure or external shocks like a pandemic or natural disaster.

The processes and collaborative leadership described in this guide will help you build and support new innovations to create meaningful change.

Overcoming resistance to change

To help you understand resistance to change, you can consider these 3 groups identified by The Workshop[1]:

  • The opposed
  • The persuadables
  • The willing

The opposed

The opposed are people who are firm in their resistance to transition. For example, they may not believe the problem is real or merits change, or they may fear solutions will damage their identity, authority, freedoms or beliefs.

Change may also impinge upon financial interests. The status quo can be highly profitable, so those who profit from it have a vested interest in its continuation.

Focusing on this group is not the best use of limited time and resources, because shifting firm mindsets and vested interests is hard to do.

The persuadables

The persuadables are people who may have mixed or conflicting views, unformed views or deep concerns. For example, they may acknowledge the problem and be open to change but believe proposed solutions will be ineffective, inequitable, uneconomic, culturally inappropriate or unduly disruptive. They may feel unheard or excluded from decision-making processes or ignored in the design of outcomes.

The persuadables have the potential to become supporters of transition if their needs and concerns can be addressed. They should be a key focus for communications and strategy, because it is feasible to shift them from ambivalence to support.

The willing

The willing are people who are already supportive of transition, motivated to make change and excited by its potential. While the willing create your base and need to be kept informed, engaged, encouraged and supported, it can be better to direct more of your time and effort towards the persuadables, where you can gain additional supporters.

As Donella Meadows said, “You don’t waste time with reactionaries; rather, you work with active change agents and with the vast middle ground of people who are open-minded.”[2] Supporting persuadables to join the willing will help change build on itself and cross tipping points towards success.

A youth to employment initiative shows buy-in takes time (Eastern Bay of Plenty)

Community collaboration and whanaungatanga relationships were essential to the success of the Ready for Work initiative in the Eastern Bay of Plenty. It took perseverance to get buy-in for a collaborative process – there were many times when different groups in the community wanted to go it alone. Barbara MacLennan, who played an important role in advocating for a collaborative approach, would say, “We can do this a whole lot better if we combine our resources and recognise each other’s strengths.”

Ready for Work(external link) — Toi EDA

Photo: A green fern.

Photo credit: Tina McGregor

Listening is an important part of influencing

In persuading people, listening is critical, especially where there is opposition. The mere act of listening can dissolve resistance, because recognition is sometimes all people are asking for – an acknowledgement of sacrifice being made, inconvenience being tolerated or compromise being struck.

Listening also helps to inform your response. It is possible that opposition is grounded in misunderstanding, misinformation or a lack of knowledge. An exchange of information might be enough to change someone else’s mind, or even your own.

If the disagreement arises from a conflict of values rather than beliefs, then an exchange of information is unlikely to make much difference. Instead, what will make the difference is connecting with the values that the other person has.[3]

You need to look after yourself

You need to ensure your own safety before assisting others. Ambulance workers and surf lifeguards are taught this lesson.

The same goes for people trying to make change. Transitions can be hard work. They involve disputes and disagreements, sometimes with members of your own community or family. Transition involves challenging conversations where a lot is at stake. Disagreement is unavoidable, and this can take a toll.

To achieve effective change, it is vital to take care of your own mental wellbeing. You cannot be effective if you are exasperated, exhausted, anxious or fatalistic. You cannot bring people together around a common cause if you are resentful or contemptuous.

If you find yourself at this point, it is best to step back and reassess. Are you okay? Do you have the support you need to continue? Are you inadvertently creating pushback by projecting negative feelings? Is progress possible or do you need to re-strategise?

It can be helpful to hold leadership collectively so you are able to spread the load. It’s okay to stand down if you need to. Other people from the leadership group will be able to carry on.

[1] The Workshop(external link) —

[2] 'Thinking in Systems: A Primer', Meadows, Donella H. 2009. London: Earthscan.

[3] 'A Careful Revolution – Towards a Low Emissions Future', Hall, David, Ed. 2019. Wellington: Bridget Williams Books Limited.