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[The importance of modelling in overcoming resistance]

It is a hot day. You are at some event outdoors with hundreds and hundreds of other people. The music is playing. There is a lone guy there dancing in a crazy way  all by himself. Do you join him? Watch this amazing clip:

Ok – now forget about the dancing. Has this ever happened to you? You have prepared an amazing mingling activity for your class. You give them the instructions and say ‘OK – off you go!’. And nobody moves. I am sure you know the feeling. It is even worse if you are a presenter, like I am, working with middle-aged colleagues. How do you get them to do things?

Jez Groom was facing a similar problem. As a business consultant he was running a workshop for a big company and it was important for his demonstration to get his group to do a particular activity. ‘What would this entail?’ I hear you ask. Well, nothing special – just listening to a song for 3-year olds, lying down pretending to be a sleeping little bunny when the singer goes ‘see the little bunnies sleeping’ and then jumping up and hopping around like a bunny when prompted by the lyrics. Piece of cake… 😊 Seriously: what would you say are the chances that a group of business people would do such a thing?

Groom tested this. He gave a control group a set of instructions telling them what they were supposed to do and then pressed ‘play’. Predictably, nobody moved. Yet with another group, it was a totally different story: the people dutifully lied down, and when the rousing ‘Wake up little bunnies’ came, they all started bouncing around. What was the difference? Here is the idea: Groom had told a few people in advance what was going to happen and he had got them to agree to comply unquestioningly. That was it. (Groom & Vellacott ‘Ripple’ – pp. 14-15)

There is a clear lesson for us here: people may be reluctant to do something, unless they take their lead from their peers. Here are some tips:

  • First of all, your students may not know what to do – so make sure you do not just give instructions, but you demonstrate the activity as well.
  • If you think your students might be self-conscious about doing a particular activity, tell some of them in advance and ask them to agree to be the first to do it.
  • If you want students to organise themselves in groups, tell some people in advance and get them to initiate things.
  • If you are worried people may not feel comfortable about asking questions after a talk, tell 2-3 of them to prepare some questions in advance to get the ball rolling.

Remember the crazy guy video? If he had arranged the whole thing with the first 2-3 ‘followers’, the ‘movement’ would have started sooner.

The Moral: To overcome reactance, get some people to model the desired behaviour.