Reactance Theory

The Innate Pushback Against Restrictions On Our Freedoms


When someone tells you there's only one path, one choice, one way to do things, all you want is to prove them wrong and do the opposite. That's Reactance Theory at work — our innate pushback against restrictions on our freedom.

Reactance Theory posits that when people feel their freedom to choose is being restricted, they experience an emotional response called "reactance," compelling them to do the opposite of what is being imposed. Essentially, it explains why individuals often resist rules or suggestions that seem to limit their behavioral options.

Everyone wants to maintain a semblance of control. Tell your team they have to do implement something, and suddenly you're not the inspiring leader; you're the dictator. Announce a new "mandatory" guideline, and watch as workaround solutions sprout like dandelions. Sure, guidelines are useful. But when you dictate the exact route, don't be surprised when people go off-course just to feel the wind in their hair.

Reactance Theory is the silent killer of engagement. Guidelines are great, but they need room to breathe. Instead of giving orders, reframe them as choices.

Don’t dictate, nudge. Don’t instruct, explain. Don't enforce, encourage. Don't impose, suggest. Don't demand, collaborate.

You get it.

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