Understanding the Faces of Resistance

by  Mary C. Schaefer  |  Change Management

Recently I gave a presentation titled,

“5 Simple Steps to Engage Even Your Most Skeptical Employees In Change, So You Can Create a Strong Foundation for a Positive and Developmental Work Culture”

As I went through it, I myself was struck again by the necessity to understand and consider human nature when we are trying to influence our co-workers and employees (i.e. fellow human beings.)

We were talking about understanding the nature of human resistance to change, particularly at work when trying to make positive change in work processes or culture.

The Faces of Resistance

The point that struck me as fresh again happened when we talked about what is behind what I call “the faces of resistance”, such as:

  • Skepticism/ Seen-it-All: ‘Why should I believe you? Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m going to be here picking up the pieces long after you’re gone.”
  • Cynical/ Non-trusting: “I don’t want to act like a I care, because I cared once and felt like a fool when I believed in you (or another leader) and you didn’t deliver as promised.”
  • WIIFM?: “Will I be forgotten once we accomplish this? Not that I want to be put on a pedestal but I’d like my contribution to be acknowledged. And I want you to understand and acknowledge why my contribution means something to me.”
  • Agenda/ Grievance: “I feel like I’ve been wronged in the past and haven’t been heard. No one has noticed or when I spoke up, no one said they were sorry. And I’m going to make you miserable til you hear it”

All of these have very human concerns underneath them. As long as someone “feels” something about what you are doing, you have something to work with. I think it is the sign of a good leader to strive to look underneath these seemingly insurmountable reactions and work them through.

You can say people need to grow up, let it go and get with the program. I’m reminded of what I added to the bottom of this slide in my presentation:

“Like none of us have ever felt anything like this…”

What are some things you have learned about dealing with the faces of resistance?


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About The Author

Articles By mary-schaefer
Speaker, coach and trainer Mary Schaefer’s expertise is in creating work cultures where organizations and human beings can both thrive. She is a former HR manager. Find out more about how Mary helps managers empower themselves to make the most of their human resources with this special collection of articles selected for LCG readers: http://www.reimaginework.com/LCG/  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Susan Mazza  |  19 Apr 2011  |  Reply

Great Mary. I think the people who need to “grow up” are actually the ones who think they can just expect that people get with the program rather than embracing the need to provide the leadership necessary for people to authentically choose to get on board. Your boss can tell you what to do but they can’t dictate how you feel. And if they want you on board they better care about how people feel.

On the other hand there will always be people in every one of the categories you name. That doesn’t mean you can’t make progress and it doesn’t mean you ever get to stop working at increasing the number of people who are “on board”.

Mary C Schaefer  |  19 Apr 2011  |  Reply

Thanks for the comment Susan. Talking about the ones who need to grow up… you are reminding me about one of my buddies (thankfully a savvy, conscious exec) who says, “I can’t just hand them a business card with a new title and expect them to move on [with our change].” He knows he needs to “Lead Change” literally, and is a pleasure to work with.

Deb Costello  |  20 Apr 2011  |  Reply


I wanted you to know that I shared your insights with some of the leaders in my community. Our school is about to undertake two very important and difficult changes next year and there is significant resistance in some areas. It’s easy for people to dismiss resistance as foolish, but understanding the motivation behind it helps craft the response and lessen the impact.

Mary C Schaefer  |  20 Apr 2011  |  Reply

Deb, it IS easy for people to dismiss resistance as foolish – at best, annoying, or even punishable at worst. Oh if we could all cultivate a little more compassion. Thanks for the feedback.

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