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“Counterwill” is the name for the natural human resistance to being controlled by someone else.

This instinctive resistance can take many forms—disobedience or defiance, procrastination, doing the opposite of what is expected, and lack of motivation. Counterwill is normal in toddlers, in young people of all ages, and most certainly in adults. It is such a universal phenomenon at certain stages of development that it has given rise to the term “rebellious twos” and “rebellious teens.”

The underlying dynamic of counterwill is deceptively simple: a defensive reaction to felt coercion. On a side note, the totally noncoercive (but not permissive) Discipline Without Stress Teaching Model totally bypasses counterwill.

Trying to deal with this dynamic by using coercion is a recipe for disaster. The antidote to counterwill is to avoid prompting feelings of being coerced. The key is to focus on influence—rather than on obedience. The art of influence is to induce people to influence themselves.

 Here are three magic questions to ask when you believe counterwill is involved:

  1. Are you willing to try something different if it benefits you?
  2. What would an extraordinary person do in this situation?
  3. Are you angry with me or at the situation?

Successful people understand that relationships are critical for motivating others. They avoid anything that prompts counterwill in the form of negativity or in anything that aims at obedience.

Tip: Do your communications prompt counterwill? If they do, change your approach by asking a reflective question.