Resistance and Resisters
People resist change. When I facilitate a change management training session, no one argues with me on that point. In fact, everyone nods their head in agreement. They create a long list of reasons why people resist change: people like their routines, people aren’t motivated, people aren’t trained. I’ve done this exercise with hundreds of attendees in countless sessions. The responses are similar. The lists are long. So, if people understand resistance so well, why are they stumped when employees resist them?
It feels personal
It’s one thing to talk about a faceless “them” in an exercise. It is quite another to look at Sue across the
table and listen to her issues, see the tacit expectation that you are responsible. She is adding work to your
plate, implying you are wrong. It feels personal but you need to take a deep breath, step back.
It’s best to view resistance for what it is, not personal, but rooted in one of a few places: 1) Lack of
understanding 2) Sharing potentially relevant information and 3) An attempt at control and/or engagement.
It’s not about you, it’s them!
What’s the right tactic here?
The conventional wisdom is that people who resist are bad and what they say is wrong. Resisters feel like
roadblocks to success, so we hope they go away. Guess what, they don’t! Invite dialogue. Step one is to
Allowing people to openly express concerns provides an opportunity to:
1. Learn about unanticipated challenges. Without a forum to share concerns, issues pop up late when
it’s harder to address them. Major issues that surface late can stop a project in its tracks.
Sometimes, the project never recovers.
2. Clarify misunderstandings or misinformation. People may resist based on rumors or assumptions
that are wrong. Make sure they have correct information and understand how it will impact them
In conclusion, think of resistance as good. It is a form of communication and engagement, a predictable,
helpful part of transition. It brings issues out in the open and provides an opening to clarify the what and
the why of a project. If resistance is embraced and encouraged, the project will be better for it.
Resisters are not the thorn in your side (except for a very few). One of my clients told me, “I take the
toughest critic and ask him to join my team.” He said that approach has helped him succeed over and over.
You may want to consider doing the same. So, the next time Sue is telling you why your ideas won’t work,
listen. Then, ask her to help you figure out the right solution.