Kristen started off as an energy conductor in her workplace. She was gung-ho in singing the praises of her organization. She was enthusiastic and she was fiercely loyal. That was 23 years ago, when she started her profession as an idealistic young woman, freshly trained with a newly-minted university degree and plenty of hope. Over the years, sacrifices were made, promotions came, and the compromises started–first small ones and then bigger. Then, mostly in the past year, treatment from one manager in particular made it harder for Kristen to get out of bed in the morning.
Today, Kristen is an energy resistor. She is tired, jaded, has few positive expectations of her workplace, has no trust in management, and is all too willing to share her scar-tissue wisdom with others, especially younger and newer employees. Kristen switched from being a workplace energy conductor to a resistor because of a series of actions and inactions by managers. But it was one demeaning and soul-sucking event in particular that tipped her scale of tolerance and resiliency. Now management has branded her a trouble-maker, a malcontent, and someone to ignore. Definitely not a “team player.” Which is shameful and small-minded. That’s because we can learn a great deal about the value of “resistors” from the technical world of electricity.
In the electrical world, a resistor is a device that limits the amount of power passing throughout a wire in order to prevent an electrical overload. Electrical resistors are engineered to maintain a stable value over a wide range of environmental conditions, producing heat as they dissipate the power moving through them. In the world of electric power, resistors are extremely valuable and can save us from great harm.
Human resistors in an organization play exactly the same role as our valuable electrical resistors (“resister” and “resistor” have the same etymology, coming from the Latin word “resist” or “resistere,” meaning to take a stand against or hold back).
Imagine being a human resistor. To those with too much displaced power, you are a blockage and threat to transmission of that power over others. But as a resistor, your important role is to ensure a balanced and fair flow of that power. Your role as a human resistor is to prevent short circuits and power flare-ups in various distribution systems of organizational energy.
As a human resistor in the organizational power grid you are capable of generating a great deal of heat–just like your parallel on an electrical circuit. In this case, the heat you generate is caused by an understandable emotional reaction to very threatening power surges in the organizational system. These power surges are caused by people abusing their authority over others, and in the process threatening or causing a meltdown in both human emotional and physical health and in the structure itself.
I think Kristen is far from being the pariah painted with the black brush of bad management. Electrical resistors indeed can overheat. This happens when warning signs are ignored, when ongoing and careful maintenance is not done, and when the importance of a resistor is dismissed. Human resistors can also overheat. For basically the same reasons.
I believe we all both resist and conduct within the workplace in an ongoing oscillating flow of non-linear human energy that when successful, provides an ongoing pattern of emergence and adaptability. We resist the overuse or misuse of power, and we easily and routinely conduct through communication with others the positive energy we feel in a healthy and respectful workplace.
Resistors, like conductors, have their role. In an electrical system and within an organizational system.