Learning from resistance

Linda Rising at BoosterConf 2019

I had the pleasure to participate in Booster Conference in Bergen, Norway, aptly tagged “the conference for the whole team”. Many of the highly original and engaging sessions are on video and available for free on the Program page, go check them out! Making all that content freely available is just one indication of how amazing the volunteers who put Booster on are.

I never got any more posts up about European Testing Conference so far, so realistically, despite my good intentions, I may not find time to write more about Booster. But I have my sketch notes from both, hope springs eternal. I learned so much at both conferences.

In this post, I want to summarize a few key points I learned from Linda Rising in her workshop on influence as well as her fabulous keynote. I owe a lot of my own success to all the things I’ve learned from Linda over the years. The patterns in her book with Mary Lynn Manns, More Fearless Changehelped me through a lot of struggles to change culture and improve ways of working on my teams over the years. The idea of doing small, frugal experiments to continually learn and improve was transformative for me. Interestingly, I am often mistaken for Linda, I have no idea why, except that perhaps to the younger people out there, two women of a certain age with short hair and a name beginning in “Li” look the same? I don’t mind though, I’d love to be as awesome as Linda!

Tips on learning

Linda started out her workshop by making sure we all had something to drink in front of us, as well as paper and pen to take notes or doodle. “Look! The water is free! The paper and pens are FREE!” she encouraged. She also urged us to get up and move. She herself always stands and walks around when attending someone else’s session. These are all techniques based on the science of how our brains work. We learn better when we move, use our hands, take care of our bodies. Ashley Hunsberger and I borrowed this great idea for our own workshop at BoosterConf, and I will use it going forward!

The bottom line on influence

Linda Rising at BoosterConf 2019
Linda Rising at BoosterConf 2019

We all run into resistance, both professionally and otherwise. You’ve probably wanted to get your team to try something new, and you couldn’t convince them. There are good reasons for that! But don’t despair, there is hope. Here are the main ideas I took away from Linda’s sessions.

In both her workshop and keynote (the video is up, please watch!) Linda explained how our brains are hard-wired with certain biases and behavior that is rooted in our evolution as humans. We make decisions based on our own values, and you can’t pretend to have someone else’s values – they are values. It is kind of impossible to change people. And forget all that logical thinking, logic will not help you persuade even the most intelligent person.

That said, there are patterns we can try which may help us get people to try new things and collaborate with us.

Ask for help

The “Fear Less” pattern says we’re afraid of people who disagree with us. Linda says we should learn from those people instead. She gave us several patterns to help.

Linda told a story about how Ben Franklin got an enemy on his side. Franklin needed to win this person over in the Constitutional Congress. At the time,

Ben Franklin, Turn Enemies into Friends
Ben Franklin, Turn Enemies into Friends

books were incredibly rare,  treasured and valuable. Franklin asked the man to loan him a particular book from his collection. Probably that man was surprised, but he did loan Franklin the book. The thought process that goes on here is something like, “I really hate that Ben Franklin. But I loaned him my valuable book. Maybe I do like him?” They became lifelong friends. Linda called this “commitment and consistency”. It’s why companies want to give us free trials and little gifts. (You can easily find this story online).

You don’t have to ask your “enemy” to loan you a book. You can simply ask them for help. Ask for advice, ask for a favor. Linda quoted Arthur Helps: “We all admire the wisdom of people who come to us for advice”.


In her keynote, Linda told a story of dealing with a sceptic who wanted to block the adoption of agile principles and practices in a company where she was consulting. She could not find a way to win this fellow’s cooperation. One day she encountered him in the hall and he started ranting about all the things that were terrible about the transition to agile. She was sort of trapped anyway so she just let him talk. Eventually, he kind of ran down and said something like, “You know, maybe it could be a good thing.” She listened him into agreeing with her.

The “Listen, listen, listen” pattern says to use silence, short responses, body language, questions to promote discovery to show you are working with the speaker. It sometimes works. Maybe nobody else is listening tot that person. We all want people to listen to us! And you never know – if you can overcome your own unconscious biases, you might learn something from that person!

I’m always trying to improve my listening skills, but I’m such a talker, and I always fall into the trap of thinking logically. There’s no reason to waste that energy. Instead I will put my energy into listening and learning.

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