Seeing resistance? Look inside yourself


You might notice a little or a lot of it every day; resistance is all around you, and most prevalent when your organization is in some kind of transition (almost all the time). Observe, and you’ll see that resistance manifests itself in group conversations and in one-on-ones, zapping energy and preventing progress.

The way we hear it is:

“We can’t do that. It’ll never work.”

“Too risky”, “Too expensive”, and “Too much work”.

“I tried something like that. It didn’t go well.”

Although these might not be the exact words you’ll hear, they describe the sentiment that’s conveyed. If you look hard enough, you’ll find resistance also expressed in silence – and ultimately inaction (this is the passive-aggressive way of resisting).

No matter how resistance manifests itself, it isn’t pleasant for action oriented leaders with deadlines to meet and an imperatives to move people and organizations forward.

Yet your head tells you that you can’t make anyone do anything, while your heart is searching for the answer to breaking through resistance.

Look no further than your own backyard. You may be the key to busting open the wall of resistance. Consider your own:

Pace: You may be expecting too much too soon. If it’s at all possible, lay off the “hurry up” rhetoric and allow things to be slowed down. On the other hand, you may need to create a sense of urgency by build up some excitement with a challenging time frame for completion. Listen carefully for “pace” arguments, and see if there is wiggle room for you to change your expectations.

Push: You might be pushing too much in terms of “how” you want things done. When you don’t allow people to use their natural creativity to do it their way, they may push back, and their push might manifest itself in resistance to doing anything. Let up a little. Provide guidance without the push by helping them to think about the way that might work best for them.

Motivation: Everyone’s motivation is different. It’s your job to find out and to use what you learn to overcome resistance and get people moving. Watch closely. What do they enjoy doing most? Listen. Ask them if you don’t know. In the end, you might just consider asking a direct question “What would motivate you to move forward on this?”

Fear: We have to recognize that everyone – even you – is fearful of change. How do you deal with that? You recognize it, ask about it, and remove barriers. You nurture, guide, and comfort. Most of all, you listen to other’s fears with a great deal of empathy because you have experienced fear too and you’ve appreciated it when others have empathized with you.

All leaders face resistance. It isn’t necessarily a “bad” thing, and it can help you to focus in on some personal changes you need to make in the way you are leading that will break the barriers to forward movement and unleash energy in your organization.


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.