How to Counter Employee Resistance to Change & Training

When we train our clients, some of the greatest resistance we experience is, almost ironically, the anticipation of their own students’ resistance.

Here’s what we mean: When we offer programs like Mann U: Leadership Skills Development, we’re training leaders on how to train their employees. Training leaders is challenge enough; training leaders on how to train a spectrum of employees is a whole ‘nother level. It’s not easy to take the skills we teach and translate them to appeal to all kinds of different employees—hence, resistance.

These leaders begin anticipating the resistance of their employees long before they even leave Mann U or similar trainings. The excuses we hear often sound like… 

“I know my employees, and I know they won’t be open to this kind of training.” 

“I’ve tried training my employees before, but they just don’t change.”

“I know this is going to piss them off.”
“They aren’t going to buy into this.”

“I can already sense their eyes rolling.”

We get it; these are all valid worries to express when it comes to training your employees, and many of them are experiences we encounter in our own trainings. But when we experience resistance (including resistance to resistance), we know what tools to use in order to defuse it.

When it comes time to train your employees and you encounter a rebuff, here’s what to do (we know it works from experience):

  1. Tell them why it matters.
    Adults are notoriously difficult to train, and one of the primary reasons is because they need a “why.” With kids, you teach, they listen, everyone learns; with adults, you have to offer a valid reason to even get their attention, let alone to motivate them to listen, learn, and change. We call this gaining buy-in (yeah, you’ve heard us talk about it before).When you begin a training, your first step should always be to cultivate buy-in by explaining the “why” for the training. It’s valid to anticipate resistance from your trainee if you just jump into training; starting with an explanation neutralizes their defiance before it even has a chance to arise.

    Sometimes the “why” is something seemingly trivial, like “I noticed the bathrooms were dirty this morning, so we’re going to review the training on how to clean the bathrooms properly.” Other times, it’s more serious, like, “Our items per transaction have dropped drastically in the past month. We’ve proven that higher IPUs lead to higher profits for the company. We’re going to do some trainings around increasing items per transaction.” Every why, regardless of impact, is important when starting a training.

  2. Speak in the language of “we.”
    When it comes to training, cultivating a spirit of camaraderie is integral to diffusing resistance. When training feels at all accusatory or ostracizing, the student will immediately shut down, become defensive, or rebel—ie: resist the training. Instead, the training should feel inclusive of the entire group, yourself included.Avoid words like “you” and instead use “we” when explaining the training. For example, when you’re detailing the why, rather than saying, “You didn’t do a good job cleaning the bathrooms last night,” instead consider a phrase like, “We haven’t been maintaining our standards when it comes to cleaning the bathroom.”

    The language of “we” continues into the training itself. It’s why we encourage the trainer to perform the simulation in advance of the trainee; it prevents the experience from feeling like a persecution of any employee and broadens the experience to everyone.

  3. Be open to input.
    Your trainees have a right to their opinions and expressions, and preventing them from sharing them will only exacerbate their resistance. You shouldn’t allow the trainees to interrupt your explanation of the training at random, but you should open the floor for their questions and rebuttals.When you give them the opportunity to express their thoughts, the benefits are twofold: they immediately defuse their emotions by simply validating their experience, and you can then respond in a way that further disables their resistance by offering an explanation or counter to their concerns. It’s further opportunity for you to justify the training with your “why.”
  4. If they still resist, they’re not the right employee.
    You can train skills and product knowledge, you can even cultivate personableness, but you can’t change an employee who doesn’t care about your company. If you justify your training and communicate openly with your trainees and they’re still resistant to the training, this employee is not a good fit for your company—period.Sometimes this kind of engrained resistance is because the employee doesn’t care. Training takes work, and in order to invest in it the employee has to be willing to, well, work. A lazy employee is an employee who doesn’t want the best for the company, and they are not an asset to your business.

    Other times this kind of resistance is because the employee cares in the wrong way. Maybe they’ve been with the company a long time and don’t want to see it evolve, or perhaps they feel a sense of ownership over their role and are uncomfortable with change. In either case, it’s important to communicate to the employee that the change matters, and that it’s nonnegotiable; if they still say “no,” they’re no longer a good fit for your company. 

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