Leaders and trainers often face a resistant person on their team or in the classroom. While I used to fear these situations, I learned an amazing approach that turns resistance into engagement. Do you want to know how I turned a totally resistant person into a fully engaged participant in just 45 seconds? There is a powerful leadership principle that is often overlooked but is a reason why we face resistance as leaders or as trainers. Let me show you how the principle worked, and then I’ll tell you the secret.
He said, “No offense to you, but I have been a supervisor for twenty years. What are you going to teach me in three days I do not already know?”
I had to think fast but my 45-second answer changed not only his attitude but my entire coaching and teaching approach.
I told him that I was not a teacher but a facilitator. I did not have all the answers and I counted on experienced leaders sharing ideas and life learnings in the session to help the newer leaders. I asked if he would see himself as a coach in the next three days rather than a learner and share ideas when appropriate. He grunted, and I moved on to meet the other twenty participants.
Ten minutes later when I started, I noticed he was in the front and the scowl had softened. Over the course of the three days, the change in his demeanor was palpably different. He was engaged and enthusiastic and added stories and insights along the way.
When we closed the session, each person provided a closing comment. Here is what he said:
In a business setting, you could identify the employee’s area of expertise and ask them to design an initiative for your department based on their skill set. Or ask them to identify issues in your area and several solutions that would decrease cost or increase productivity. In a training session, ask resistance participants to share their experiences, be a mentor, or demonstrate skills.
I will share another story:
I was responsible for training operators on several pieces of machinery. I created computerized tests that operators took as part of their qualification.
I was working in my office and a person named Big Jim barged in, threw his test and notes on my desk and said, “I’VE GOT A PROBLEM. Your training and tests are terrible! I took a test and I got all the right answers, but the computer failed me. Now I have to do the entire thing over. I QUIT!”
This person was bigger than I and stood towering over me. While he had a gruff exterior, I knew he was a genius and learned quickly. I had to think quick again.
I told Big Jim that I loved problems and asked him to show me the issue. I logged into the test and he showed me the question he got wrong. I had programmed in the wrong answer. He was right, but the computer marked him wrong. The question was also confusing. I asked him for a suggestion to improve it and we rewrote it together.
I also asked him to critique other test questions and materials for improvements. He had a perplexed look on his face and said thanks and left.
A half hour later I had to go out to his operating area and I saw two younger operators doing their training. I asked them if they had been to lunch and they indicated that they had not. Big Jim came out and said they were not allowed to go to lunch until they completed the next module.
A two-minute conversation with a totally resistant person during training helped to transform him into an engaged proponent of the training approach. Big Jim was influential. He advocated training to others and accelerated the learning in our building. Being open to his ideas improved the training and most people enjoyed the experience.
The bottom line? Don’t get defensive when you are faced with a resistant employee or participant. Quickly turn the situation around by getting their opinion. Value their input and expertise and build an advocate instead of fighting an adversary.
Value employees for the skills they have and enroll them as coaches and experts where possible. Most employees want to be involved.
What kind of resistance do you face? Consider inviting people to be part of the solution and let them know you appreciate their views and expertise.
This approach works for leaders, trainers, pastors, parents, and anyone leading formally or informally. Leaders and trainers who apply our process reduce resistance, no longer fear resistant people, and even thrive on turning resistance into engagement.