Dealing with Resistance in the Workplace


Last week, we looked at several signs of resistance in the workplace.  Now, let’s see how we can deal with those signs to ease implementations of new ideas.

  1. Age in the workplace –  Specifically, when someone becomes set in their ways, take time to work with them one on one to see what is important to them. This builds trust and rapport with you and the new idea. Try to draw similarities between the old and new to make them more comfortable with new ideas. This also promotes buy-in from them and creates a positive vibe towards the implementation or idea. If one-on-one conversations are impossible because the numbers are too large, do it in a group setting. Do your homework to figure out what people care about, and address those in a public setting in a non-threatening way.
  2. Reactions and Responses to the idea or change – Dealing with negative initial reactions and responses can require one on one discussions, while decoding body language. “First impression is the last impression” – this is a very subjective process and it really boils down to understanding the underlying reason for why there is resistance. This can be difficult to do in large implementations and changes. Many times, even the symptoms of resistance don’t arise until the change is implemented.
  3. Vested interest based on their role and relevance – Everything that happens around us impacts us directly or indirectly. What if there are conflicting interests? We can address this by trying to align competing interests in the organization by negotiating ideas and timelines where both parties can benefit. This type of resistance happens when the organization may not realize the need for the idea or change. In this case, involving higher level staff across departments, can help clear confusion for overall goals. Another sign of resistance is when an idea or implementation may lack relevance to someone based on their role. Shedding light to the relevance of the idea by showcasing an example can prove fruitful.
  4. Previous experiences – Experiences can be positive, indifferent, or negative. We will focus on the negative. With someone would has had a negative experience with the idea in the past, you can use that to explain and illustrate differences between what they experienced versus the current implementation. Asking what they don’t like and making them feel at ease by actually showing them what the possibilities could be.
  5. Significance and Relevance
    1. The size or scale of an idea plays a key role in determining its significance. Communication is instrumental in developing and illustrating significance or relevance of an idea. Consider who the audience is for the implementation or idea. What one person sees as the most important thing in the world may not be the case for someone else based on their perspective. This is where it becomes important to explain the reason for an idea in the context of the audience’s perspective. This provides the audience an understanding for the purpose and how it relates to them. This is true regardless of the size or scale of the implementation. Even if there are no benefits, the mere act of reaching out and taking the extra effort to provide a reason helps suppress some resistance.
    2. When someone doesn’t feel an idea or implementation is not relevant to them (and it’s obvious to you), there could be a lack of understanding. This can be addressed easily by providing tailored information that is easy to understand in a relatable way. This eases tension and provides resources. Concepts are hard to grasp for some people and can become intimidating. They can be sometimes wishy-washy and don’t provide anything concrete. If you can provide a proof-of-concept for how the idea can be applied in a real-world example, then you can help mitigate resistance. For people who are convinced that it won’t work or what it doesn’t apply to them, it gives you a chance to prove them wrong.
  6. “Too much Work” – Another sign of resistance not mentioned before is whether or not the idea or change creates more work. A comment that I get during implementations every time is “You’re telling me, that I have to put in an extra 10 minutes to get this done?” or “That’s too much work”.  There can be some truth to that, but reassuring that the extra work will be temporary diffuses tendencies to resist for the time being.

Purvi Bodawala is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

Leave a Comment


Leave a Reply


Purvi, thank you for this article! I would like to say however that “Age in the Workplace” does not always equal “set in their ways”. Just because we are older employees does not mean all of us are resistant to change in the workplace. Some of us still have a young and flexible mind. 🙂

Purvi Bodawala

Hi Nina,
Totally agree! My previous article did touch on that. I’ve seen a lot of examples where long term employees become the biggest champions for change.