Resistance is futile, or: Interpretation and Managing Change

I attended a course today on coaching people through change.  There were several suggestions and tools, which I found particularly useful, and which gave me some food for thought for interpretation also:


1. What makes a good coach?

There are a few principles for a good coach, and it struck me that many of these are actually useful to inform what makes a good interpretive planner, too.  Here are just a few:

– Listening is more important than talking
Let people tell you what the site is about, not the other way around.

– What motivates people?
What are their feelings, emotions, experiences? Why do they come, what does it mean to them?  Only by understanding people’s motivations can you achieve good interpretation. [1]

– Coaches don’t provide the answers.
Coaches encourage the “pupil” to go on their own journey of discovery and problem-solving.  In practice, this means asking questions: ‘Questions sell, statements don’t.’


2. The Bubble Map

I have used mind mapping before, but the bubble map was new to me.  In terms of coaching people through change, you start off with your ideal outcome.  Then you identify what outcome you would settle for.  These are your goalposts.  From here, you start the negotiation:

–       You give your reason for the change.
–       You anticipate their objection.
–       You formulate a solution to their objection, and so on.

Now substitute ‘change’ with ‘interpretive objective’ etc., and you have a really interesting starting point.

What would interpretation look like that anticipated people’s resistance/negative feelings/qualms about the importance or story of your site?  And how can we ignore the fact of their (likely) resistance in some cases (e.g. at a war memorial site).


3. Seven types of difficult behaviours

This is a great list developed by one Robert M. Bramson, PhD, especially because it’s followed by a second list of Do’s and Don’ts in terms of how to respond to the behaviour.  It becomes particularly useful in combination with the bubble map above, and anticipating people’s objections.  Here, I’ll limit myself to listing the types of behaviours, and some of the Do’s and Don’ts:

– The Sherman Tank
Don’t argue with what they say
Don’t try to cut them down

– The Exploder
Do switch to a problem-solving mode of interaction

– The Complainer
Do state the facts without a comment
Don’t allow an accusation – defense – re-accusation pattern to develop

– The Clam
Do ask open-ended questions

– The Wet Blanket
Don’t argue them out of their pessimism.
Don’t offer solutions until the problem has been thoroughly discussed.

– The Know-It-All
Do use questions to raise problems
Don’t act like a Know-It-All back.
Be as specific as possible.

– The Staller
Do use problem-solving techniques.
Do focus on facts.


So in summary: How might these methods to coach people through change be useful in interpretation?

First of all, we need to truly understand the motivations and experiences of our visitors.  There will be core group(s) (see my last post) and it is them whom we need to understand.  At some of our sites with more obviously contested heritage, some core groups will have objections, which we can anticipate: so let’s incorporate these into our interpretation.  Let’s create as much of an exchange of ideas as possible, even if by mere anticipation, as might be necessary where no personal interpretation is possible. Thirdly, let’s ask loads, and loads of questions: let’s not state facts, no matter how deliciously wrapped up, but let’s truly encourage visitors to go on their own journey of discovery.  And finally, let’s be aware of who we are, and what experiences, emotions, and motivations we bring to the exercise.  A good coach never assumes, and they are never judgmental.




[1] Think of an iceberg: at the very bottom, deep under the water’s surface, sit a person’s past experiences, which they may not even be conscious of.  Above that sit, step by step their beliefs and values, thoughts, feelings, emotions, motives, and attitudes.  This brings us to the water surface: the only part that is visible is the ensuing behaviour.  What this means is that every stimulus goes from the bottom of the sea, through these different steps, where at the top they manifest as visible behaviour.  Makes sense?

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