When You Face Obstinate Opposition, Don’t Create A Conflict, Create A Dilemma

Greg Satell
6 min readSep 24, 2022
Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

In the summer of 1982, Poland was under strict martial law. The leaders of the revolutionary Solidarity movement were either in jail or in hiding. As the regime tightened its grip, any kind of protest risked arrest. People were demoralized, forced to sit in their homes with nothing to do but watch propaganda-laden “news” and old movies.

Yet the resident’s of Świdnik, a small city in central Poland, refused to take it sitting down. Instead, they walked. Every night at 7:30, when the evening news program began to spew the regime’s lies, they went for a walk and, just to put a fine point on the matter, some took their TV sets with them, in wheelbarrows and baby carriages.

It was fun — and funny. Similar “walking protests” soon spread virally to cities across Poland, which put the regime in a bind, they either had to shut the protests down or let people thumb their nose at the regime. This is what’s known as a dilemma action, a brilliant strategy that allows you to avoid conflict while at the same time putting your opposition into a bad spot.

Starting With A Shared Value Or Widely Held Belief

When we first start working with a team on a change initiative, they want to focus on what they’re passionate about, what differentiates their effort from the status quo. It’s something we all do. When we feel fervently about an idea, we want others to see it the same way we do, with all its beautiful complexity and nuance.

Yet to bring others in, we need to switch from differentiating values — what we love about an idea — to more widely shared values. For example, when we work with teams looking to move their organizations toward agile development, they often want to focus on the agile manifesto, because that’s what they’re passionate about. It rarely resonates with people outside the agile community, however.

Once they begin to focus on shared values, like better quality projects done faster and cheaper, it’s much easier to get people to come along. After all, who could argue with better results? That doesn’t mean that agile teams are abandoning the manifesto or hiding it in any way, they’re just not leading with it.

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Greg Satell

Co-Founder: ChangeOS | Bestselling Author, Keynote Speaker, Wharton Lecturer, HBR Contributor, - Learn more at www.GregSatell.com