Push-Me, Pull-You

Posted by Doc
Aug 10 2010

Do you remember the special animal in the movie “Doctor Dolittle“? The pushmi-pullyu?

The challenge these animals faced was this:

“They had no tail, but a head at each end, and sharp horns on each head.” and “…no matter which way you came towards him, he was always facing you.”

I always thought that an animal like this would die out, because if the heads were equal, it would never be able to go anywhere.

We all know about “too many chiefs and not enough Indians”, which has a similar problem.

So how do you handle a situation where there’s either too much push or too much pull?

In t’ai chi ch’uan (commonly referred to as just tai chi), one of the techniques has to do with pushing. Pushing takes on many different aspects, from forceful lifting/pushing, to a gentler slower movement. As I think about how we work with teams and organisations, it occurs to me that all too often we’re either pushing too hard and too directly, or not enough.

Consider, first, what happens when you try to push someone. What do they do? They brace themselves, at a minimum. Sometimes, they prepare to push back, and then they do push back.

How about if you come up on them gradually? Let’s say you’re standing next to someone, and you slowly shift your weight so that you’re leaning on them – pushing – more and more, little by little? How do they react? Most typically, they will notice when you cross some threshold that is very specific to them. Many times, it will be when some “significant” amount of pressure reaches their awareness. If you were walking down the street, then they’d realize at some point that you had steered them by either physically leaning on them or by entering their “personal space”.

If we are working with a group, team, or organisation, in helping them to adopt new principles, practices, and/or methodologies, some of us – myself most definitely included – have a tendency to push. To be emphatic, zealous, excited, energetic, passionate, insistent,…

We must be aware and wary of creating resistance through our pushing. We must consider whether it’s more effective to lean on them rather than to push them.

6 Responses

  1. Twitter Comment


    RT @athought: Blogged: Push-Me, Pull-You [link to post]

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  2. Ranjeet says:

    The Challenge is to find out when we are pushing our team members (in my case client people) too hard. Given that we usually know what needs to be rectified or addressed sometimes I tend to be a little pushy (if that is a word really), but then my problem is how to look for those vital clues which will suggest – Hold on don’t go so fast, let them understand, let them do it, give them some time. Do you have any thoughts of some vital and significant clues that we should look out for before being too pushy….would love to hear from you on that!

    • Doc says:

      Well, first I’d say that the clues usually come when we’re being too pushy, rather than before. I think you’ve already got a sense of it, because each group is different. So the question is, what are the symptoms that you can see that might indicate that you’re been too pushy/aggressive.

      • When people start pushing back on you,…
      • When people start avoiding having conversations with you,…
      • When people start arguing with you, even when they seem to agree with you,…
      • When you find yourself having to explain or justify at length,…

      You are probably being too pushy, and should consider using different behaviours and techniques to achieve your purpose.

  3. Twitter Comment


    wise words from @athought. lean, don’t push. [link to post]

    Posted using Chat Catcher

  4. Andy Palmer says:

    I have found that, often, companies are brought into “make us agile”.

    These companies make huge sweeping changes with no regard to the existing culture or processes, and are then surprised when things don’t work. After all, they’re being paid to “make the transformation happen” and they are the experts.

    I’ve found great success in, first, going to where the company that wants to make the transition is, and then making gradual guiding nudges. The changes are far more sticky, and the client feels like they own the process.

    This feels a lot like what you’re saying here ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Doc says:

      Indeed, that is a lot like what I’m saying here. ๐Ÿ™‚

      I like your phrase “gradual guiding nudges”. I think you’re right that they’ll be more sticky that way.

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