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Five Ways to Turn Resistance into Opportunity
by Kevin Eikenberry

Resistance. It isn’t something people cherish or enjoy encountering. We experience resistance everywhere at work:

People don’t like that idea.

People don’t want the work flow to change.

Someone doesn’t agree with the feedback they received and becomes defensive.

Someone doesn’t see the value in a revised policy and they become resistant.

People don’t want to buy what we have to sell.

I’ve had leaders and supervisors tell me that resistance is the number one problem they face. But I don’t agree with that perspective and let me tell you why . . .

Examining Resistance

Why do people dread, avoid or even fear resistance? Because they haven’t stopped to think about it.

Imagine a meeting where everyone agrees. Imagine this meeting - where there is no dissension, no difference of opinion. At first you might consider this to be nirvana. Imagine the bliss: We are in agreement! No heated discussions! No frowns! No stress!

And while the stress would be low and no resistance would be found, there would be something else missing.


If no one proposes a new idea, the organization will never move forward. If no one suggests that something isn’t as good or effective or useful as it could be, nothing will ever change. And if no one challenges the new ideas that are raised to help make them even better, the wrong problems may be addressed and the results worse than before you began.

The bottom line is that innovation and progress require resistance. It is just a fact of life. So in reality, it doesn’t make much sense to call resistance a problem. That is like saying that it is a problem that our air is 78% nitrogen and we need to fix it!

The air is the air – we don’t worry about the relatively small amount of oxygen in it. We know that our bodies are designed to convert that oxygen into life. So too, resistance is just resistance. It exists! And because it exists our ideas can be challenged and examined, our processes get improved, we have machines that fly through the air, light coming from a bulb, and thousands of other things. In part, because of resistance.

The Next Steps

If you buy my premise that resistance just exists – that while it can be challenging to deal with, it can be as positive (if not more so) as it feels negative – you have some new approaches that can help you.

1. Expect it. Why would you be surprised to find resistance? It doesn’t matter how brilliant our idea, or beneficial the change you propose, somebody will “push back” or be resistant to the idea from the start. Recognizing this will allow you to plan for some of that resistance and provide ideas to alleviate the concern. In other words, you can plan for it.

2. Don’t take it personally. Again, resistance is a natural occurrence. Don’t take people’s reaction to your idea as being about you. Get over yourself! The resistance exists naturally as people think about the implications of the new ideas or change. Their resistance isn’t a personal attack.

3. Avoid defensiveness. Think about it. You suggest a new idea to a colleague. They reply, talking about all of the problems with this idea and why it won’t work. Your response is defensiveness… you raise your voice to make sure they hear you … you speak a bit more rapidly … And is your defensiveness greeted with reduced resistance? Not in my experience. Defensiveness, while natural too, and sometimes hard to avoid, doesn’t reduce the resistance we experience – typically it adds to the strength of that resistance. Hint: When you realize that the resistance isn’t personal, it is much easier to avoid defensiveness.

4. Embrace it. If something is naturally occurring and in the end beneficial, why wouldn’t we embrace it and recognize that resistance is just a part of the change or idea adoption process. View resistance as the file to help you smooth the rough edges off your idea – providing the benefit of improving your proposal.

5. Acknowledge it. Once you intellectually know that resistance will occur and you know that becoming defensive about it doesn’t really help you, you will search for a new strategy. Here it is: acknowledge the resistance. Let people be heard. Ask them questions about their perspective. Try hard to understand it. You don’t have to agree with them, to acknowledge or value your perspective. By acknowledging their perspective, they are much more likely to be open to hear your ideas, and much more likely to turn the conversation into something productive.

Resistance can be your friend. As you change your perspective you will become more comfortable with it, and more adept at understanding that resistance can help your teams and your organization grow.

Kevin Eikenberry may be contacted at

Kevin Eikenberry is a leadership expert and the Chief Potential Officer of The Kevin Eikenberry Group (, a learning consulting company. To receive a free Special Report on leadership that includes resources, ideas, and advice go to or call us at (317) 387-1424 or 888.LEARNER.



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