Overcoming Competing Commitment

“Competing commitment and how to overcome it” – A review of work done by Kegan R. and Lahey L. L.

Overcoming employee resistance has been and is one of the main issues that every manager face in his day-to-day functions. Whether it is Information systems department or customer service department or marketing or production or distribution department, the problem is
very critical and needs a psychological approach to find the root cause and thus help the individuals to overcome their inner resistance to change.

As the authors highlights, the real reason behind the resistance to change is a “competing commitment” to protect something (belief, position, personal insecurity/inferiority/superiority, fear etc). In many cases (as the authors lay out nicely with examples) the real reasons for their behavioral problems is this competing commitment that compels them to act negatively and create the situation of resistance to change, which turns detrimental to company’s overall growth (given that company’s health is based on how healthy its employee’s mental and physical well being).

As the article points out and as I believe, these competing commitments stem out of one’s personal encounters with his family members or his community, which has shaped some assumptions in his mind. For example an employee may foster assumption that his decision is always correct (may be stemmed from a painful divorce). Managers need to have some psychological skills to examine the characters of each employee and give him some breathing
area to make him understand that he need to work on finding his competing commitment and eliminating his competing commitment by going to its root cause.

Since managers themselves are very prone to this issue of resistance to change (being human beings), following general rules are applicable for everyone to overcome this issue (steps as attributed by authors) –

Step 1: Notice and record current behavior

The step 1 is to giving breathing ground for themselves to understand how the competing commitments (as evolved from “big assumptions”) is affecting their actions and become aware of it, but not to change themselves – in short awareness stage.

Step 2: Force oneself to look for contrary evidence

This step is to force oneself to look out for similar experiences around him and try to see that his assumption is wrong – when others are effectively overcoming this barrier.

Step 3: Try to find root cause by exploring history

This step involves helping oneself to go back in history to find the root cause that lead to creating these assumptions

Step 4: Testing assumptions

This step is to provide employee to have more instances to test his assumption and learn from his experience as how to handle this situation effectively so that he could subside/ give aay his assumptions and be more free and see that he could do better even if he change.

Step 5: Evaluate results

This step is to evaluate the tests and effectively question the assumptions and take corrective actions themselves to challenge the big assumptions that holds his/her behavior.

It has to be carefully considered though that the basis for this exercise is not to ridicule the employee or consider him as less effective or degrade his performance reviews, but as a means to help employees to conquer their inner obstacles to change.

Copyright (c) 2010 Deepesh Joseph


1. Kegan R. and Lahey L. L. (November 2001). The real reason people won’t change. Harvard Business Review.