What is Resistance, Really?

Why is it that when I and others talk about resistance, there is usually a strong reaction?

Just the simple word “resistance” provokes a palpable response in those of us who lead and manage.  And when we move out of the realm of words and consider the ways in which resistance manifests, we enter even richer territory.

That’s when we start getting into the “faces” of resistance – the surprising ways it appears in us and others as we do our work in organizations and teams.


For example, let’s take someone whose response to new ideas is 100% reliable – it’s always“no”!  Or, the meeting participant who doesn’t offer any constructive comments and maintains stony silence from beginning to end.

Or, the person who appears to be contributing a lot – but his contributions turn out to be streams of questions that never settle the matter.  Instead they lead to more questions, perpetual confusion and even overwhelm.  And guess what?  That means that person isn’t able to help with making progress and getting to resolution.

Finally, there are those who may behave in all these ways, yet they are resisting because they are genuinely committed to something.  It may be their professional values, or their beliefs in how things should be done, or something else that matters a lot to them.ogress and getting to resolution.

So, what is resistance, really?  Is it good or bad?  Is it neither?  And – so what?  Does it even matter?

I don’t think resistance is inherently good or bad, and I do think resistance matters.  In fact, I think it matters a lot because at its root, resistance is information.   If we or someone in our midst says no to something, emotionally or literally, there is a reason for that no.   As courageous – and valiant – leaders and managers, it is up to us to meet resistance in others, and in ourselves, with an open mind.  Yes, it’s tempting to greet resistance with more resistance (our own), but instead, can we reply with curiosity?  Rather than judging and shutting down, can we listen openly to the information that the “resister” tells us?

What’s available when we do that is information.  When we are willing to receive whatever that information is, it doesn’t mean we have to agree.  In fact, we are free to evaluate its merit or lack of merit.  And when we do that, we are leading with the whole of who we are and what we are committed to as courageous – and valiant – leaders.

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