How to make workplace resistance work for you

It can be a powerful tool to move things ahead

Resistance is a trying, if common, challenge in the workplace. You might have one employee or team that can’t (or won't) get with the program. They seem to spend more time and energy justifying why it would be wrong to do a task the agreed-upon new way, than it would take to simply do the job. Attitudes may range from slightly sour to overtly belligerent. Explanations for the resistance might be catalogued as follows:

  1. The old way worked better; 
  1. We don't need to learn how to do it the new way because we have our own system, which is better than the old way and the new way;
  1.  You are picking on me because you don’t like how I (fill in the blank with something unrelated to the problem at hand;)
  2. You don’t really understand the process and your strategy won’t work;
  3. I don’t understand… (what you want or why you want it.)

You might hear these reasons directly.  It is just as likely that you may sense them, or hear them from someone else. There are a few options for managing this problem, and it is definitely in your interest to determine the best strategy before you take action. The critical point is to work with resistance, not against it.

Adjusting to new information, processes, and ways of working can be difficult. Change is not an event, but a constant variable in the business equation. However, constancy of change does not diminish its impact. People may function in an unrecognized state of disorientation and low-level confusion.

 It is important to consider that the “resisters” may understand something (or many things) that the change drivers don’t. These could range from the unforeseen consequences of new procedures, to factors that insiders or managers may be unaware of.

The first thing to remember is this: resistance can be a “sharpening stone,” forcing you to constantly articulate and hone the black and white value of your strategy. This is not a bad thing.  It may also be necessary to prevent the spread of opposition.

The next thing to explore is whether you can sweeten the pot for the resistant, or find a way to add value for them. This might mean adding or removing responsibility, offering more feedback and encouragement, or even agreeing with them on some part of their objections and adjusting accordingly.

A more challenging strategy is to observe where the resistant person or team gets their energy. Do they take exceptional pride in one part of their process? Do they gain strength or prestige from their nay-saying attitude?

Study this, and determine how to enlist it in your cause. This aikido-like approach will likely require a more significant investment of time than the first tactic, because it won’t be a one-time intervention. This will probably be an ongoing task.

Finally, you have to ask the hard question – does this person represent an intractable problem? That is a different predicament from the employee that you have to constantly manage.

The key word here is “manage.” Managing is a doable, if challenging and sometimes frustrating task. Intractable means unmanageable and uncontrollable.  Do those qualities have a place in your organization?

Knowing how to work with the resistance that can be part of the day to day reality of constant change is a powerful tool.  Tapping in to the energy tied up in resistance may unlock exactly what you need to push ahead.

Categories: Management & Leadership, Web Exclusives