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Skill: Deal With Resistance

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People don't like changes so much. They sometimes make every effort to keep their original position and to keep things the same. That sputtering is not always unjustified. Maybe your idea is just a bad idea. More often, people don't really resist your idea, but feel robbed. In which situations can you expect resistance and how do you deal with it?

Resistance comes when we think something has been done to us and we don't want to leave it at that. Resistance is an intense, stimulating state. Someone with resistance is emotional, stubborn and somewhat irrational. (Source: the Resistance chapter in the Persuasion and Influence course .)

Situations that create resistance

There are many different situations in which people experience resistance. Some examples are:

  • For re-organisations or other organizational changes. A new departmental structure, a merger, a reorganization: these kinds of changes always create a lot of resistance among employees. They often feel unheard of and feel that the change is happening to them and imposed on them from above. They themselves see better alternatives than the changes that management proposes.
  • With required behavioral changes. People who have to adjust their habits, such as eating or living habits, usually experience resistance to really make that change, even if the change is for their good. Behavior change is difficult.
  • In educational situations. "I don't see the point," many students say when they have to memorize a math formula, or a list of German articles. Learning something new often requires bridging a certain resistance, because the student feels that it must and cannot determine what he wants. Learning can also mean abandoning old ideas, and that too can be a reason to feel resistance.
  • All these situations have in common that people must be convinced to do something new. Examples where you have to convince on a professional level and have to deal with resistance are: a sales person who wants to sell someone, an information officer who designs a campaign to stop smoking.

Respond to resistance from others

Resistance has to do with fear of the unknown, but also with feeling restricted in your freedom. People feel resistance when they receive a restriction that they experience as unfair. Freedom is a broad concept here and also means 'do what you are used to doing' or 'think as you always think about it'. The art of responding to resistance is therefore primarily to put the finger on the sore spot. You have to find out what the person involved experiences as 'unfair' or objectionable in the situation.

Depending on the situation, there are different tactics for dealing with resistance.

  • Appoint. Say aloud that you feel resistance. This gives the other person the opportunity to respond and to indicate what his objections are.
  • Recognize. Let them know that you understand that the other person feels resistance. That makes that person feel heard. That often removes part of the resistance.
  • To ask. Ask directly about the objections so that you can respond to them.
  • Move and tilt (judo). Give the other directly in his objections. This actually increases the objections. That is often not the intention, so at that moment the other person will admit something.
  • Avoid. Do not respond to the objections. If necessary, arrange that you park them to come back to it later. Use this tactic specially in situations where it is not a very important point.
  • Creating support. By creating support you ensure that the other person becomes an ally of your plans. This greatly reduces the resistance.
  • Benefit from resistance. People in organizations often know exactly what is going well and what can be improved. Employees express resistance to change if they think the change is not the right one. Talk to them to find out how they think there is room for improvement and learn from their insights.

Resistance to yourself

No person is sacred, so you too can experience resistance to yourself, for example against clients. This is specially the case if you have a care or social profession. Or maybe you yourself get involved in a reorganization or a change process and you don't see it at all like that.

The trick is to find out exactly where your objection lies in such a case. Then think about how you can remove that objection. Techniques that can help with this are:

  • Enlarged. By enormously inflating and expanding your objections, for example by inventing fifty other objections or thinking of what can go wrong when you enter into the new situation, your resistance automatically becomes laughable - literally. You will see that with objection number 5 you are already going to smile and with objection 10 you can hardly keep smiling.
  • Identify ineffective thoughts and replace them with effective ones. This is part of the techniques used in the RET method. Resistance is often based on old, inadequate thoughts and assumptions. By seeing these and replacing them with effective, more reasonable thoughts, you dissolve resistance like snow in the sun.

Sometimes resistance means that you have to set limits and act assertively. An example:

A therapist once opened the door for a new client. To her astonishment, she saw that this client had picked all the flowers from the planter next to the front door. "They have finished flowering," the client explained. The therapist immediately felt disgust and decided that it was better to refer this client to another therapist.

Related properties

  • Empathy and empathy
  • Gain support
  • Keep your distance
  • To deal with aggression
  • Negotiate

In which professions are you dealing with resistance?

  • Counselor
  • Social worker
  • Dietitian
  • Psychologist
  • Secondary education teacher
  • Trainer
  • Manager
  • Seller

How do you show when applying that you can deal with resistance?

Depending on your profession and position you have to deal with other types of resistance. If you are an organizational consultant, you will encounter different types of resistance than as a teacher. But for all professions you can demonstrate the ability to deal with resistance in an application by describing a situation as concretely as possible (the STAR method ). Emphasize the process that you have gone through and describe the results achieved.


  • Organization advisor: name concrete results that you have achieved in advisory processes where you have met resistance. For example, write: "At company x, after initial resistance, I managed to get the marketing manager enthusiastic for the new course. He finally succeeded in successfully marketing a whole new product line ."
  • Teacher / trainer: make clear how you deal with difficult students. "With a difficult group that didn't seem to want to learn and do anything, I decided to take a totally different approach. I inserted two improvised theater afternoons and showed the participants that they could learn a lot by just doing it. Then they were convinced of their abilities and they started working on the actual project. "
  • Dietitian: describe that you realize that behavioral change is difficult. For example, write: "Telling someone how much he is allowed to eat is not difficult. To find out together with the client how he can sustain it and where the difficult moments are, that is the art. Because of that art I love the profession."

Examples of questions about dealing with resistance during the job interview:

  • Give an example of a situation where you met resistance to a plan among your employees. How did you manage to motivate them for your plan?
  • Describe a situation in which you have involved other parties in a plan to eliminate resistance. Which parties did you choose and why? What was the result?

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