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One day inventor George de Mestral returned from a walk, his dog’s hair matted with burrs.   He removed the burrs and examined them via microscope, noticing how the hook shape of the bristles attached the burrs quite nicely to his dog.   Thus the product most of us call Velcro was conceived.

Wikipedia says that a piece of this product 2 inches square can support a 175 pound person.

Herein lies my metaphor about workplace relationships.

Resistance is a potent dynamic; it’s a key reason that people don’t get things done at work.   I’ve been honing a model, a view of how resistance operates in workplace relationships.

“Deflective resistance” is when someone avoids connection, confrontation, or conflict by actively blocking or moving attention from an issue.   You may see fireworks, emotion, and action…but the central issue remains unresolved.  Progress stalls.

In nature, a skunk will spray another animal that seems to be a threat.   Sandbags and newer technologies are used to deflect enemy fire and bomb blasts in combat.

In one of my favorite classics,  North by Northwest, an undercover agent is sent by her criminal mastermind “boyfriend,” to seduce a man who is a perceived risk to the bad guy.  The agent and the good guy fall for one another — and then stage a dramatic break-up to protect the undercover agent’s true identity.

Challenging relationships often involve two people enacting the same pattern, repeatedly — this is also true at work.

Protection is a goal of deflective resistance.  Blame can be used as a tactic, amped up by adding emotion.

Your Customer Service manager, Greg, misses a deadline.   When you approach him about the deliverable, he blames people on his team…and steers conversation to a missed deadline in Finance, and becomes visibly upset that you’re treating him unfairly.

If you go on the defensive about your fairness, you’re no longer talking about Greg’s deadline and no longer holding him accountable.   You’ve been hooked.

To work with resistance, I advise clients to watch for people wearing their hook-side-out Velcro suit.

Watch for emotion — check for drama.   Examine what is being protected, and you’ll likely find a workable direction for your energy and attention.

Break the pattern.  Check your hairy Velco suit at the door, or you’ll risk rolling around without any progress.

Or carrying a 175 pound person who isn’t pulling his own weight.

The photo is Velcro, by fellow U of C-er Quinn Dombrowski, quinn.anya, used under Creative Commons license.   And according to Velcro, Velcro the product does not exist — Velcro the corporation exists to manufacture it.   Glad to clear that one up for you.   And I actually found a photo of an apprehensive kid in a Velcro suit, too.