Management Matters: Prepare for the Challenger

Wouldn’t it be great if people just did what you asked them to do without any opposition? Why don’t those reluctant folks make your life easier at work?!

When people resist a new work initiative, a directive from their boss, or any change, it’s isn’t so difficult to deal with: you call them on their behavior and talk it through. For those managers who are so conflict averse that they look the other way or hide out when employees resist, it’s not so easy. The most challenging kind of resistant behavior to deal with is passive aggressive behavior,because it can be very hard to identify where and when it will appear. Energy is directed towards sabotage, backstabbing, griping, and bad-mouthing instead of figuring out how to integrate the change into the daily work routine.

Passive-aggressive behavior is easy to spot in a child - they either overtly or covertly stop cooperating.The folks at work are different because they often will pretendto cooperate, and then do exactly what they want to do.

Let’s be a bit more realistic: assuming everyone will enthusiastically applaud every change that comes at them is wishful thinking. Rather than be annoyed when people challenge or resist changes at work or worse yet – hide out from them, you can and should step up and proactively manage what you think might happen. If you suspect that this will happen in the near future or IS happening in your workplace right now, there are specific things that you can do to proactively reduce, minimize, and maybe eliminate resistance in others:

Put It on the Table

•     Assure them they won't be attacked, punished, or scolded.

•     Ask to hear all aspects of the resistance. Listen carefully without interrupting. This can be painful, but it is crucial to prevent working in ignorance.

•     After hearing all of it, ask questions to make sure you understand it.

Respect the Challenger AND the Challenge

•     Listen carefully. Don't interrupt, don’t state (re-state) your position, sell, reason, or imply that their resistance is invalid.

•     Affirm their right to resist. You don't have to agree but you DO need to acknowledge it. ("I understand that you could feel concerned.")

•     Make it safe to resist. State that resistance has value. You appreciate them sharing their opinion. This is difficult - but if you want others to believe that there is no retribution on your part, you have to have to model observable behaviors that make them believe that you mean it when you say it.

Explore the Challenge

•     Differentiate between Pseudo-resistance (has nothing to do with the change, rooted in old grudges, resentment of authority, need for attention) and authentic resistance. Ask "What is your objection?"

•     Look deeper. Ask, "What would you prefer, and “What do you want/need from me?" Then you can work toward the objective rather than against it.

Recheck the Position of the Current Challenge and Any Agreements That Have Been Made Around It.

•     Your goal is not to eliminate all resistance. It is to reduce the needless resistance enough to allow the change to continue its progress.

•     When the challenge is on a workable level, thank the person and move on. They don't have to like the change and abandon all of their opposition. It is enough that they are willing to agree to it, and begin acceptance of the change.

Rather than cross your fingers and hope that a change won’t be challenged, questioned or resisted, plan for it. If you plan for the challenge, you will be planning for success.

Joni Daniels is Principal of Daniels & Associates, a management training and development consulting practice that specializes in developing human resources in the areas of leadership and management training, interpersonal effectiveness and efficiency, skill- building, and organizational development interventions. With over 25 years of experience, she is a sought after resource for Fortune 500 clients, professional organizations, higher education, media outlets and business publications. Joni can be reached at

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