What to do when pushback becomes personal

Overcoming resistance sometimes requires us to overcome ourselves first. When I coach leaders who are at their wits end with the resistance of others, be it dealing with a difficult stakeholder or trying to curb the behaviour of a wayward peer out to undermine them, I notice that the frustration of the situation has hijacked their ability to approach the situation with clarity, composure and sometimes, common sense. They become so emotionally charged and affected by the situation that things start to get personal.

It’s very easy to start believing that the push back you’re getting from others is a personal slight towards you. It’s not just that the other person doesn’t agree or support you, it’s that it feels like they are personally against you; your values, your experience and everything you stand for. It can be hard to understand why people just don’t get it the way you do! With this fixed view of their ‘dark’ motives comes an inability to deal effectively with the resistance. It becomes a battle of wills instead.

“Why should I make this easy for them? Why do I have to help them come on board? Why don't they just get it?”

When we get caught up in the emotional fight we fixate on winning the battle not winning the war. We lose sight of the bigger game at play and can get caught up in petty squabbles and turf battles; digging our heels in deeper with each encounter. We are unable to give ground even if it supports our overall goal.

The danger with the hothead approach to resistance is that the reptilian brain takes over and hijacks access to your ‘rational’ brain that’s responsible for higher executive functions like reasoning, logic and thinking clearly. Your brain literally disconnects from common sense and is left at the mercy of a 5 year old stomping their foot in the playground. This is no way to handle resistance.

When we make pushback personal, resistance digs its heels in. To get the conversation back on track, act as if the pushback has nothing to do with you. Imagine the conversation is simply about the idea and not about your identity. Imagine this person is your ally, attempting to make the idea stronger… in a round about kind of way.

Anneli is an accomplished leadership speaker, mentor and co-author of Developing Direct Reports: Taking the guesswork out of leading leaders. She is currently working on her next book, ‘Decoding Resistance: The real reason people won’t do what you want’, a practical guide for increasing buy-in, reducing push back and navigating the daily barriers that impact influence, engagement and change.

Leading change program - transforming resistance to results.

Want more from Anneli? For leaders of change initiatives who need to deliver - on time and on budget, this program supports leaders to effectively diagnose and understand the resistance of key players that could jeopardise the project’s success. This is not about project management; it’s about people management - strategies for engagement, effective change communication and how to get key players on board, to keep the project on track.

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