Evaluation Resistance Dudes

We talk a lot about resistance in the field evaluation.  “Evaluation has so much to offer. Why do organizations, funders, participants,  and leaders resist our efforts?”

People resist evaluation for the same reason we resist exercise, meditation, and eating our Brussel spouts*. We fear change.

Even “good for us” change, especially “good for us” change, is scary.  Often, we can’t do anything about the “bad for us”change. That’s going to show up when we least expect it. So, we resist the “good for us” change and other scary things we think we may be able to influence.

We want to be content and avoid discomfort.  Anything that moves us out of our cozy space, whether we perceive the force as “good” or “bad”, will be met with resistance. This is part of human nature. Resistance exists for a reason. In The Power of Habit, Charles Dhuigg writes, “Habits, scientists say, emerge because the brain is constantly looking for ways to save effort. Left to its own devices, the brain will try to make almost any routine into a habit, because habits allow our minds to ramp down more often.”  Evaluation, if it’s not already a habit, makes us work.

Steven Pressfield writes about Resistance in The War of Art.  Pressfield says,

“The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it”.

That’s true for me. Resistance showed up in full force when I started this blog.  Why? Because as surely as I felt this was important, I feared…um…evaluation/criticism/success/ etc.  I recognized this and figured I should do something about it. Here’s what I did.

I personified Resistance and came up with the idea of Evaluation Resistance Dudes (ERDs).  Brene’ Brown calls hers “gremlins”.  You may call yours Fred, or Maurice, if you like.  ERDs are equal opportunity visitors in evaluative settings.  Doesn’t matter if you’re a Very Impressive Evaluator, a student taking a test, or a Senior Leader of an Important Organization. ERDs will come.

The Anatomy of the Evaluation Resistance Dude (ERD)

The Anatomy of the Evaluation Resistance Dude (ERD)

You’re laughing or at least grinning about that dude, right?  Maybe you’re laughing at me because I totally made this guy up.  I sure did. I painted him,  cut out that hat and crocheted his little arms and legs myself.   I made him orange because I don’t care for orange. Here’s a secret: resistance only has the power we give it!  We create our own ERDs all the time, often without knowing it.  If you run across someone exhibiting ERD behavior, approach with caution and gentleness.

We can play with  Pressfield’s wording and come up with a statement that is true for many organizations.

The more important a call or action is to our organization’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.

Evaluation, especially evaluation done with the express intent to foster learning or organizational change is going to flame the fires of resistance.  Most of us aren’t taught how to express, let alone handle, this discomfort in our lives, and certainly not in our workplaces.  Evaluators are (at least in theory and best practice) tipped off to expect Resistance in professional settings and  have tools to help. That doesn’t mean it’s easy.

I agree with much of what Pressfield has to say about Resistance and overcoming it, and I recommend reading The War of Art. It’s one to keep and share. We differ on one key point, however.  Pressfield views Resistance as an evil, invisible, enemy force that is out to get us.  It can certainly feel that way.  Through my meditation practice, I’ve come to understand Resistance differently.

The purpose of Resistance is not to destroy, but to protect.

Resistance isn’t out to keep anyone from living a fully realized life or becoming a stronger, more adaptive and thriving organization. Resistance is not trying to undermine your evaluation work, exercise regime or creative project.  Resistance wants to protect us from hurt, fear, vulnerability, embarrassment, and failure and success and love and change and growth. Resistance wants status quo, cozy comfort.

The equally insidious flip side of the Evaluation Resistance Dude is the Ego Reveling Dude (also, ERD).  They look like this:

Don't let that smiley face fool you, this guy is dangerous!

Don’t let that smiley face fool you, this guy is dangerous!


Ego Reveling Dudes have the same purpose as Evaluation Resistance Dudes.  They want to keep us safe, happy, and feeling a good about ourselves.  If you identify as a curmudgeon, the Ego Reveling Dude wants to keep you that way. We THINK we want to live with these guys all the time. We don’t. They’re dangerous. Well meaning, but dangerous.  These guys are in control when we’re taking ourselves too seriously, believing our own hype, and thinking we’re indestructible, impermeable, and infallible.  We’re not. Sorry. No one is.

What’s to be done?

Well, you could sketch, paint, and crochet your ERDs as a contemplative exercise. This is not unlike the evaluation ice breaker where we ask participants to shout out words they associate with evaluation. In some settings, crafting images of evaluation could be a fun way to help people loosen their hold on Resistance. It wouldn’t work in my evaluation setting  or I’d try it.

Realizing that Resistance is only as powerful as we make it is a good first step.   That’s what the ERD crafting exercise is all about.  Pressfield and Duhigg have great, (and different) advice to help us cultivate new, more adaptive and expansive habits- whether you want to relate differently to exercise, Brussel sprouts, art,  or evaluation.

Understanding the true nature of Resistance helps.  Recognizing Resistance when it shows up can be challenging.  This takes practice, training, discipline….building a habit of noticing.  Which will probably bring up more Resistance. We must not be discouraged. Anything worth doing requires practice.

Evaluators could try applying some good ole objectivity to relating to both sides of the ERD.  We needn’t be too caught up in Evaluation Resistance or Ego Reveling.  A few deep breaths can help, so can silence, a walk in nature, reciting a mantra, anything to break the mind spinning, habitual pattern and give you space to respond with intention.

We can also cultivate one of my favorite words: equanimity. His Holiness the Dalai Lama says,

Equanimity is a state of mind where one relates to others in a way that is free of prejudice rooted in the afflictions of excessive attraction or aversion.

This sounds very much like objectivity, and it is.  Think of equanimity as the kinder, gentler cousin of objectivity.

As I thought about my own experience with both sides of the ERD, I decided to make one more physical reminder of the essentially imaginary nature of ERDs and related critters.  This guy is cute enough I might keep it in my pocket.

Self-created substance surrounding nothing.

Self-created substance surrounding nothing.



Resistance Takeaways

  1. We create our own Resistance  and have the power un-create it.

  2. Approach your own and others’ Resistance with gentleness and equanimity.

  3. Use humor (if not openly, then privately).

  4. Connect to and align your intention with a deeper purpose (your project, your art, your values).

 This post is the first in a recurring series of “Watercolor Wednesday” posts where I’ll use watercolor paintings (and other artistic expression) to explore evaluation themes.

* Yes, I am an evaluator, a meditator,  and a fan of Brusssel sprouts.

How do you recognize your own Resistance or the Resistance of others?    What would your ERDs look like?  What helps you relate more constructively to Resistance?




Entering the Evalusphere

I promised to share some of what brought me to this blog and have since realized completely fulfilling that pledge is a process that will emerge over time rather than an item I can address in a single post.

I’m still really slow with this whole blog post writing thing.  My internal editor is far too critical for my own good thanks to years of academic training and professional writing.  While I was writing this post my colleague and evaluation blogging trailblazer, Chris Lysy posted “4 reasons to have a blog, even if you don’t blog”.  With the humor and insight I appreciate so much from Chris, he elucidated some of my reasons for this blog better than I was going to.   Truthfully, my original post was going to pay homage to Ann, Susan, Chris, and Sheila who shared their blogging experience at the American Evaluation Association conference in October 2013 (slides here).   I’m going to do that in a different way by including them in my take the “4 reasons to have a blog post”.

The reasons to blog are compelling and I like the four Chris gives.  However, with every motivational reason, there can be an associated fear factor and it’s worth addressing those, too.  I love quotes, I’ll prescribe some “Quote Medicine” that might combat some of the resistance that is part of learning and opening oneself to evaluation.

(Digression: I first heard about “quote medicine” when learning SAS programming in the late 90s.  The instructor gave us a command comprised solely of punctuation that would get the program to run if we had unbalanced quotes in our program.  Part of the deal with Quote Medicine is you must vow to find and address the underlying problem once you get running.)

Motivational Reason 1: You have stage control

Fear-based Question: What if I screw this up?

I have the power, “MUAHAHAHAHAH!!!”  OK, maybe maniacal laughter is taking it bit too far. It is fun to have a platform that is mine, all mine (my own, my precious).  There’s a freedom in exploring ideas and putting things out there that are not polished and perfectly reasoned.    The associated fear factor is that I am solely responsible for this and the internet can be a harsh place. Peer review has nothing on the “interwebs” for the potential to crush a person’s creative spirit.   My dad would say, “The Lord hates a coward, He’s not too keen on stupid, either”.   Somewhere between brave coward and wise fool seems about right.

Quote Medicine:

 You can either fit in or stand out. Not both. Seth Godin (Linchpin)

Motivational Reason 2: Show your humanity

Fear-based Question 2:  Is my humanity showing?  How embarrassing!

My favorite blogs are authentic.  Sheila B. Robinson has an authentic, evaluation-focused blog called Evaluspheric Perspectives.  She’s professional, personable, and always real.  I have immense respect for that and am pleased to share the “evalushphere” with Sheila (who coined that very cool term).  The ability to put more of who I am out there in the world is compelling.  So often our work cuts us off from expressing the people we are the rest of the time.  That’s a tragedy.  The scary part is that revealing our humanity means beings vulnerable and, yes, judged.  The fear factor is compounded for people in professions connected to the scientific method like evaluation. The implicit message is that your humanity counts for a lot less than the letters after your name and the awards on your wall.

Quote Medicine

“If humanity is to survive – and not only that, to flourish- we must be brave enough to find our wisdom and let it shine”. Sakyong Mipham, The Shambhala Principle  (p. 21)

Motivational Reason 3:  Build a following and keep in touch

Fear-based Question 3:  Who would follow ME?  and What if no one follows?

I wholeheartedly agree with the keeping in touch part. The AEA365 blog, started by Susan Kistler and now curated by Sheila Robinson is great connecter.   I am an internal evaluator and a “virtual employee”.  My work team is located in California and our organization is headquartered in Washington, DC.  I don’t live within 500 miles of either of those places.  The internet allows me to keep in touch with everything and everyone I can imagine.   In his take on Reason 3, Chris says, “You have great things to offer, let me follow you.”  Time will tell whether what I have to offer is “great” (my metric for “great” is yet to be determined) and, to be honest, I’m still figuring out what the “things” are that I’ll offer.  As I’ve said, I don’t yet have a destination in mind for this journey. The possibility of Chris and other evaluators I respect as “followers” is a humbling and daunting thought. And that doesn’t even take into account the people I haven’t met yet.  How exciting!

Quote Medicine

“When we stop caring about what other people think, we lose our capacity for connection”. Brene Brown, Daring Greatly (p. 169)

Motivational Reason 4: Support your offline presentations

Fear-Based Question 4: What happens when people connect blogging me with working me?

This is not one of my reasons for blogging, but I appreciate that others do this.  The videos on Ann Emery’s blog are an example of how to do this well.  Every time I watch one of her videos, I learn something.   When I first read this reason, I solidly decided, “Not for me.” I’m rethinking that.   Truthfully, I’m a bit skittish about linking my “day job” with this blog too closely.  Next time I give a presentation, I’ll figure out how to share some of the concepts in a blog post and see what happens.

Just for the record, I wasn’t at all planning on revealing my blog to other blogging evaluators today. I still don’t feel like I know what I’m doing and don’t have everything set up properly.  However,  Chris’s post inspired me.  Telling someone that what they do matters is important.  Showing someone that they matter in a way that means something to them is even better.  Isn’t that what we all want- to know what we do matters?

For anyone keeping track, add one to your tally of evaluation bloggers. I guess I’m here now.