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Responding to Unexpected Resistance


Disciplines > Change Management > Resistance to change > Responding to Unexpected Resistance

Pause | Listen | Empathize | Think | Respond | See also


What happens when you are in the middle of a conversation or meeting and someone speaks out against the change?


The natural tendency of many people is to respond immediately, perhaps butting in or cutting the other person short. The voice may be authoritarian and tinged with anger.

But think how this appears to other people? The message being sent is 'public disagreement is not allowed'. A likely effect is that the person resisting now has the sympathy of others (and may recruit the others to their cause). It is also very likely that the resistance will just go underground.

So the very first thing is to bite your lip, hold your tongue and count to three. Take a moment to pause and assess the situation. What are others doing? Is the person speaking cautious or bold? What does the body language tell you?


The next step is to listen carefully not only to what they are saying but also to how they are saying it. Listen for the deeper messages between the lines. Listen to their fears, hopes and ambitions. Hear the tensions and emotions. Notice how they are coping.

You can also draw out further information, tipping the bucket to ensure you have the whole story. Use appropriate questioning techniques to learn more.


Make your initial response one that empathizes with their position. Show first that you understand (even though you may not agree) and respect their right to voice an honest opinion.

This and other previous action will have won you many friends -- perhaps even the person in question who may have been expecting you to resist their resistance (which is just what it would be) and is preparing for a fight. When people expect a fight and find only concern, the surprise is likely to change their opinion.


Before you open your mouth, think hard about what you are going to say and how you are going to say it. Done wrong, a response will show your empathy to be false and may cause a bitter backlash.


Respond in a way that offers the other person a dignified way out. Seek win-win. Use their language. Reframe their position to show a bigger picture.

See also

Resisting persuasion

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