Overcoming resistance


Dictionaries provide strong synonyms for the word “resistance”: defiance, opposition, fight and conflict to name a few. However you may not usually experience such a strong reaction to a new initiative, project, or organizational change.

It’s important for you to notice subtle resistance and become aware of passive behaviors in those you lead that signal that they aren’t on board. Ignoring the almost-hidden signs that people aren’t in your corner can derail your career.

Watch for clues when others are not engaging or doing what they’ve (verbally) committed to. Notice whether they’re listening to you when you speak about that initiative that you need their help with. Are they distracted? Is their body language stiff and arms crossed? Are they not responding to your call to action appropriately?

Resistance might be the product of fear of change, or anger from someone who was not brought into the loop early enough. They feel like they aren’t a part of the initiative, or that it wasn’t their idea. This is important for you to think about so that you can help them to come on board in a supportive and positive way.

Instead of getting angry about how they’re not playing along, have a heart and try other things that might pull them along.

Start a conversation with the resistors about what’s keeping them from joining into the effort. Tell them what you’ve noticed, and listen a lot to their side. If they deny that they’re resisting, ask them what’s stopping them from moving forward. As long as you can keep the conversation open, and as long as you can listen to understand their side, you have a chance of getting to the core of their resistance.

Persist gently and with great care. Be kind, and continue to try to understand their side of the situation. Be willing to compromise if you can, to accommodate their concerns. When the time is right to push them just a little you’ll know, but if you have some luxury of time, don’t push hard. You need them to decide to come on board on their own.

Ask for a small step that they can take toward participating. This may require some vulnerability on your part, particularly if the resistance is personal (i.e. you feel like they are resisting you). The question you ask is an invitation and could be worded something like, “What will change your mind?” or “What will it take for you to be a part of this?”.

Offer to remove barriers to their success. Particularly if you are able make something less risky for them in some way that will help them out. This may be just the kind of support that will ease any fears they have of their own success.

Thank them for having the conversation with you, being honest, and (if they commit to participating in the effort) for their participation.

Stay close and continue the conversation with them in the same honest and open way. The relationship just might take off and become beneficial to both of you!

Helping others to overcome their resistance isn’t about telling them to “buck up and get on board or else”. It requires you to step into a conversation that can be difficult, but healing. What have you got to lose?



I am a former executive in a Fortune 100 company. I have owned and operated an executive coaching firm since 2003 called Aspire Collaborative Services LLC. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. My top personal values include respect for others, kindness, compassion, collaboration and gratitude. I work very hard at practicing my values daily and when I don’t succeed, I practice some more. I am married with two wonderful daughters and two spoiled pugs.