Every leader can agree: Employee resistance is one of the most frustrating experiences.
You spend countless hours putting thoughtful consideration into the decisions you make for your organization, only to be met with resistance. Employee pushback can feel like a roadblock, but it can actually improve your organization and culture. To make that happen, effective leaders must understand the cause of resistance and its value, and know how to unlock the insights it provides.
What Causes Resistance
Unsurprisingly, resistance typically occurs alongside changes within the organization – even before it’s happened. Often, simply proposing change can spur pushback because employees may not know what to expect or don’t have the full picture.
You’ve likely heard these complaints before, accompanied by looks of frustration and anger. “We tried that before and it didn’t work,” “why do we keep adding more work,” and “this is just another flavor of the month.”
It’s natural to want to ignore these complaints and keep employees out of the loop on decision making. Don’t. Lean in – your employees are handing you a gift.
Why Resistance is a Gift
Leaders lose valuable knowledge when they dismiss resistance as unwarranted or invalid. At the core lies something much larger. Instead of putting up the stop sign, welcome the resistance and draw it out.
If we dig in deep enough, we can understand the values, motivations and concerns of those who comprise our organization. Understanding employees allows leaders to communicate more efficiently, improve productivity and build a better organizational culture.
How to Turn Employee Resistance into Results
Think of employees as a cup. If the ‘cup’ is filled entirely with resistance – “it won’t work,” “this is a waste of time” – then there is no room for what you’re trying to add. You must get all of the resistance that employees feel towards the change out before you can move forward – empty the cup.
To draw out the resistance and start converting it to insights, you must:
Listen to WHAT people are saying
Truly listen without judgment. Avoid thinking of your own rebuttal to their points or view the matter from your own perspective as they speak. Do not block, defend or argue. Show people you’re listening by giving them your full attention.
Draw people out with specific questions
General questions won’t get to the root of the resistance. “What thoughts do you have about the change?” can simply be answered with, “I don’t like it.” This doesn’t help. Rather, ask questions that touch on what people are saying. “What concerns you about the time involved for the project?” lends itself to a much more fruitful response.
Let them tell you exactly what they object to
You’ve drawn them out by asking specific questions – now it’s time to let them explain their objections in more detail. Again, be open and welcome their comments without defensiveness or blocking. Choose an element and keep drawing out.
Focus on solutions by focusing on results
Ask yourself, “What has to happen to change that outcome?” If your questions bring to light the concern that a project will take too much time from employees’ already busy schedules, dig for solutions that will change that outcome. Consider what can be done differently to make more time for the project – re-prioritize responsibilities, outsource, hire temps, etc. Engage in some creative problem-solving to address concerns before they become an issue.
Above all else, employees want a voice in the organization. Resistance is part of that voice – and an important part. Be open to pushback and alleviate the resistance by providing an outlet and path to move forward.
If you’re struggling with internal communication – from employee engagement to merger communication – the Face2Face program provides support through easy-to-use tools and training.