An Approach to Dealing with Resistance in Your Organization


As Millennials in the nonprofit sector, our ideas for trying new approaches are often met with responses like: ‘this is the way we have done things for 10 years’ or ‘I don’t see why we need to change, things are going well’. To understand how we can better influence people with our ideas despite resistance, we must first understand what resistance is and learn strategies to help us manage professional situations in which we find resistance (and not let those moments get the best of us). 

Resistance is natural; it occurs in and outside of work and shows up wherever there are human interactions. Resistance is often an emotional process, and it is a reaction against the process of being helped (Burke, 2008, p.109). Sometimes we see resistance within our organizations when there are changes taking place, when stakes are high, or when roles shift among co-workers. We ourselves might be resistant to new ideas, suggestions, or a different way of doing our work. Whatever the reason, it is important to remember that resistance rarely has anything to do with you. Rather, it is reaction to the challenge created by new changes or ideas being proposed.

If resistance is natural then what are ways to overcome it? The first step is to understand what kind of resistance it is. The table below highlights what active and passive resistance may look like.

Active Resistance Passive Resistance
Finding fault Agree verbally but no follow-up
Ridiculing or arguing Feigning ignorance
Appealing to fear Withhold information
Manipulating or distorting Failing to participate
Blocking: strikes, boycotts or lockouts Ignoring

You may recognize some of these forms of resistance, or you may have enacted these forms yourself. Once you know the form of resistance, the second step is to name it in conversation with the resistor. Depending on your position within the organization this may be easier said than done. Stating the resistance calls out the behavior and allows for the resisting individual to express what they really feel. For example, if you are working on a implementing a change within your organization and meet resistance from a colleague that is too busy, stating something like, “You look as if you have other things on your mind and have low energy for this project,” (Block, 2011, p. 154) might get the individual to respond with a more candid statement on what they are feeling. 

Once you name the resistance, letting the individual respond is key. Sit in the silence if needed but let them respond. A resolution won’t always be reached, but by following the three steps of 1) identifying the type of resistance, 2) naming the resistance, and 3) letting your colleague respond, you will be one step closer towards managing the situation in a way that helps you potentially overcome the source of the resistance.


Block, P. (2011). Flawless Consulting: A guide to getting your expertise used. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer Publications.
Burke, W.W. (2008). Organization change: Theory and practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

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