How to overcome resistance

by Mar 14, 2023

Overcome Resistance

Getting from ‘No’ to ‘Yes’ can be a hard slog, so learn how taking a broader approach can help to overcome resistance 


I had one of the most challenging coaching assignments in recent memory to overcome resistance.  I had to dig deep and employ every behavioral coaching technique in my tool kit and career.

Was it an intransigent CEO or a difficult corporate assignment?

I wish. It was my own Mum.

I may have told you that she is going on 99 years young and hasn’t been out to a non-medical event since before COVID. Sharp as a tack, but physically frail, her resistance to the suggestion to go out for lunch had reached epic proportions.

Getting from “No” to “Yes” was a hard slog.

It was the classic “Hole in the Donut” Syndrome of focusing on the empty space in the middle. Workplace or the family, peer, report, parent, or sibling, it happens to all of us when faced with certain decisions. The only things we can think about are what could go wrong and not the benefits of something going right.


overcome resistance

Overcome resistance

“Getting to Yes” written by Roger Fisher and William Ury, puts forward a method for negotiating agreements without getting into conflict. Their premis is that it is better to focus on common interests, rather than launching into a linear attack or even charm initiative, with a specific position. By taking a broader approach you arrive at a win-win outcome.

The principles of “Getting to Yes,” are embedded in constructive communication:

1. Problems not people: Don’t let personal issues get in the way of finding a solution and focus on the specific challenge at hand. Avoid a blame game and ask how something could have happened, rather than who caused the issue. Avoid you language.

2. Focus on interests, not positions:  Take a big-picture view and factor in the underlying needs, goals, and concerns of the other person.

3. Take a multi-faceted approach:   Brainstorm options and a range of solutions rather than pursuing a fixed line of thinking. Problems are usually like diamonds, multi- facted, not binary.

4. Stick to the facts: Base the decision on data, rather than on opinions that may reflect biases and other deep-seated but unrelated beliefs. When you demonstrate that the decision is thoughtful and fair, is taking their views into account and your approach is achievable, this can help overcome resistance.

A deeper understanding to overcome resistance

1.  Look for underlying issues: Frequently what you may see is only the presenting issue so look for underlying causes. At the root is what we all feel from time to time F.E.A.R. (False Expectations Appearing Real)  In my Mum’s case, she thought she might get sick, fall, or some other unlikely catastrophe. In the workplace, someone might feel threatened or their position jeopardised by change and they fear they will be worse off.

2. Communicate effectively: Use active listening and clear communication to understand the other person’s point of view and to express your own. Be respectful and avoid making accusations or personal attacks. In a personal or family situation it can be an act of monumental heroism to keep the irritation out of your voice. But succeed you must. Professionally it is imperative.

3. Explore alternatives:  Consider other ways you can achieve your goal, but maybe in a different way. Ask what problem are you ultimately trying to solve rather than focusing on the process. My goal was to get Mum out of the house, not to have lunch. In the end, we settled for three of us having lunch and my Mum having tea and cake.

4. Build trust: Show that you are willing to work towards a solution which suits all. I enlisted the support of her doctor who although was a bit sneaky brought in an external medical view to overcome her fears.

5. Patience is vital: Unless the issue is timebound, overcoming resistance may take longer than you think. It took a week to get my Mum to agree to the expedition. And anyone who knows me will tell you that my patience gene is pretty diluted. There may be situations when time is of the essence and the slowly-does-it approach will need a boost. That can’t be helped but if your communication pattern is usually consistent then the seeds will have been sown for latitude when you do apply pressure.

Operation Lunch

Persuasion is a key part of a leadership soft skill tool box and one that many get wrong or don’t practise enough. It leads to strengthening relationships and the building of trust using influence, not power. Your ability to defend your ideas and convince others that they matter can make or break your career.  Research show that Influence is one of the key components of career success.

For me it was not business critical but vital nevertheless.

Coinciding with a visit from my niece and her boyfriend we staged a 3-person initiative “Operation Lunch” which was undertaken with the military precision of a space launch, including advance reconnaissance. Our roles were split as follows:

Me: growth mindset, motivational coaching, and PMA

Connor: car, cushions, walking devices

Emily: client mobility management

The staff at the Birkdale Tea Rooms couldn’t have been more helpful. Not only that we did it a second time and it went even more smoothly.

And here she is. We did it!!

Do you need practise?

Build and hold together inclusive teams with help from our specialist corporate services. 



Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she supports organizations to achieve business success via gender balance, diversity and inclusion. She is CIPD qualified, and a certified coach and trainer including digital learning.
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