Resistance Is Your Friend

There is always one. Often there are several. You know...the ones who resist every change.

If you are lucky, they adopt a neutral wait and see position. More likely, they find the most inconvenient time to raise a question or make a comment that disrupts your plans.

You might write off the first instance of open resistance as the awkward execution of an honest attempt to offer a helpful insight. By the third time, you are dreading the change because it means certain battle with "them."

While you might like to scream ... or worse, chances are that your response to resistance is one of the following:

  • Reason with them. You explain the good business reasons why the change makes sense. They might listen. They might even agree with you. They might also counter with something so ludicrous that there is no rational response.

  • Bargain. You offer them something in return. "If you support this, or at least not openly resist it, I will..." Bargaining can buy you the support you need from that person or group, but the potential for negative reaction is enormous if word gets out that you are bargaining for support.
  • Manipulate. You attempt to manage the circumstances so that the resistors have no choice but to stay neutral or support the change. This is a high-stakes game that will result in even greater resistance and long-term mistrust when, not if, it is discovered.
  • Use power. You mandate compliance, and the result is malicious obedience. The resistance doesn't go away. It just becomes more difficult to detect.
  • Ignore. You direct your energy toward the vast majority who support the change in hopes that the resistors go away. The problem is that many resistors respond to being ignored by talking louder.
  • There is hope if your resistor will listen to reason. Beyond that, no one wins when you bargain, manipulate, use power, or ignore. In fact, the resistance often becomes worse when people decide to step up their open resistance or go underground by adopting guerrilla tactics to undermine you.

    The Question that Creates Another Way

    Do the people who work with you -- or at least most of them -- want to be successful and do a great job for the customers you serve?

    If the answer to that question is yes, then resistance becomes your friend. It represents a legitimate concern or fear from those involved. As the leader, wouldn't you want to know those things?

    How to Make It Work

    The natural reaction to open resistance is emotion. They push you, and you want to push back. The secret to using resistance as a tool for positive change is to pull rather than push.

    You pull by asking questions that bring concerns and fears to the surface. Instead of immediately stating your pre-developed talking points, ask the individual to provide more detail about why they think the change won't or can't work.

    It may take time to convince your resistors that you value their ideas and input. There may be years of mistrust and the perception that their ideas are not valued.

    Resistance is natural. If there is no resistance there is no real change.

    Pushing back against it creates barriers. Actively engaging and listening builds bridges that allow you to involve others in developing better solutions. Use this response and question when you hear a concern or fear: "I appreciate you sharing that. How would you address that if you were me?"

    Not everyone will move from being a perpetual naysayer to a partner in making the change work. There will still be times when you must be the leader and state the course of action. In those situations, move forward knowing that your honest attempts to use resistance as your friend builds your credibility with the vast majority of followers who want to help you succeed.

    Remember: People want to feel that their contributions matter. They will volunteer their commitment to leaders and organizations that engage their head and inspire their heart for a meaningful purpose. You move one step closer by making resistance your friend.

    Randy Pennington is an award-winning author, speaker, and leading authority on helping organizations achieve positive results in a world of accelerating change. To bring Randy to your next meeting, visit, email, or call 972.980.9857.