On Dealing with Resistance from a Group

8 min read

Every leader, team manager, trainer or director sometimes has to deal with resistance from a group. How do you deal with that? In this article I give you 6 personal tips to get a group moving again by creating trust, security and engaged.

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“No way that we are going to do that!”. The group was united. They were not going to participate in a team building activity. It sometimes happens that not everyone is motivated to participate in a training or team coaching. But this was the first that I encountered a lot of resistance from almost the entire group during a training.

It can be difficult as a manager, manager, trainer, facilitator or coach to get a group moving. There is no response, people lean back, talking while you are saying something or just walking away.

Do you recognize this? In this article I give you 6 personal tips to get your team or group involved and to make them enthusiastic about a cause.

1) Let someone introduce you

I am aware that if participants do not know you that they are more suspicious of you. What helps is when you are introduced by someone (a master of ceremonies, a manager or the director). That woman or man is known by the crowd; A little bit of the ice is already broken. Let this person end by saying your name. It distracts if you have to state your name in your story.

I often stand in front of a room and then there are groups of people scattered around, some are sitting or leaning and others are standing in the back of the room. The person who introduces you, often already has influence on a group and she or he can easily call everyone together. This creates a familiar and uplifting atmosphere right from the start.

2) Make sure there is no distraction

If you want to work in a focused way and want everyone to be engaged, it is important that there is little distraction. Of course it is good that everyone switches off his or her cellphone (the master of ceremonies may ask for that).

During the activity with the group with so much resistance, a man approached and got involved in the activity. That distracted me and the group. What helped was that someone from the organization asked this man to leave. In the future I always ask my client to take care of people who disrupt a session.

What can also be a distraction is a bar, high tables (for people to lean against), chairs (for people to sit) or a noisy group in an adjacent room. If it is a meeting where people need to be seated, it distracts when participants arrive late. Check in advance of what can be distracting and discuss this with your client on how to minimize that (such as hosts at the door for people who arrive late or by removing high tables).

3) Address it

If people do not participate, keep on talking or do not get closer, Address it. That’s how you recognize them (and the elephant in the room). If you dare to be vulnerable, tell what it does to you and what you want. Invite them once more to get closer or to be quiet. This is an invitation to connect.

4) Ask “What is going on?”

Perhaps you have a great presentation, training or team building activity in mind, but maybe something else is going on within the team that is much more urgent.
In the years that I am a trainer, I realize that it is not about me but about the participants, the group. Of course it depends on the time and size of the group but you can always ask the participants what is going on, what is needed and what they want. I know this is like walking on thin ice because the group is going to determine what happens next.

For the group who showed so much resistance, it turned out that there was no confidence in the leadership (who was not present). They wanted to talk about that. Then I told stories on personal leadership, talked about mindset, connection and perseverance. There was a need for that. I asked the group questions and tried to answer theirs. What helps is to help participants find answers to questions that arise. This ensures the release of tension, connection and trust.

3) Ask “What is going well & what could be improved”?

My colleague Iric van der Have has written a good article (in Dutch) about team context. The metaphor is a swimming pool in which a group is swimming. It is not possible to swim to the other side if an edge is leaking or missing. One of those edges is safety. There is safety when people recognize each other and, for example, when you’re talking about what is going well and what could be improved.

4) Be aware of the mirror

So it is not about the trainer, leader or team coach. She / he only facilitates. Everything you look express (your words, your attitude or facial expression) has an effect on a group. If a group resists, it is often in response to you. Maybe you are trying to push something through for which group is not open to at all. Maybe you have a resistance yourself (for example dealing with difficult groups). The participants fully understand this and respond to it.

5) Serve the needs of a group

My starting point is to serve the needs of a group. How do you do that? By making contact, by listening, by meeting participants in advance, by acknowledging and by ensuring that the edges of the swimming pool are not leaking, as Iric describes.

6) Reconnect with your WHY

What also helps is to reconnect myself with my own WHY, purpose or life purpose. That brings me into the here and now and immediately provides energy, enthusiasm and perseverance. Read this article on how to find your WHY.

How to know when a group is moving again?

When do you know if you have put a team into action? That they are enthusiastic about a cause? This will not be the case if they only nod yes and later quietly leave the room.
My experience is that a group is moving again is when they start talking lively, come up with actions or ideas themselves or walk up to me afterwards to discuss further steps. The best thing is when I hear two team members talking behind me and one is saying to the other “This is great! or “I am looking forward to this!”.

How do you deal with teams or groups that offer resistance? What do you do to get them moving? Let me know in the comment field below. I and the other readers of this article are looking forward to reading and learning from you!

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