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  • Writer's pictureKayla Morse Higgs

Resistance is an Unmet Need

Updated: Jun 24

In the intricate dance of leadership and organizational culture, resistance often takes center stage as the villain. It's seen as the force that slows progress, challenges authority, and signals dissent. But what if we've been reading the signals all wrong? What if resistance isn't the problem but a symptom of a deeper need waiting to be acknowledged and addressed?


Understanding Resistance


Resistance in professional environments is complex and multifaceted. It can stem from a variety of sources - fear of the unknown, discomfort with change, or even a sense of loss. Traditionally, resistance is viewed as a hurdle to be overcome, a challenge to be defeated. However, this perspective can lead to a confrontational approach, deepening the divide between leaders and their teams.


The Shift in Perspective


By reframing resistance as an indicator of unmet needs, we pivot from confrontation to understanding. This doesn't mean appeasing every dissenting voice or diluting our vision, but rather recognizing the valid concerns and needs that may not be immediately apparent. This approach prompts us to ask: "What unmet need is manifesting as resistance?"


Listening for the Unmet Needs


Identifying the unmet needs behind resistance requires a culture of open communication and trust. Leaders can foster this environment by encouraging team members to share their concerns without fear of retribution. Techniques such as active listening, empathy mapping, and feedback sessions become invaluable tools in this discovery process.


Responding to Resistance by Fulfilling Needs


Once identified, addressing these unmet needs can take many forms, depending on their nature. If the need is for clarity, improve transparency around decisions and processes. If it's a need for assurance, provide stronger support structures or professional development opportunities. This responsive approach not only alleviates resistance but also empowers team members, enhancing their engagement and commitment.


The Benefits of This Approach


Viewing resistance as an unmet need transforms challenges into opportunities for growth. It leads to more effective leadership, a more cohesive team dynamic, and a culture that values growth and learning. Moreover, it demonstrates a commitment to the well-being and development of the team, fostering a sense of belonging and loyalty.


Turning Resistance Into Insight: Questions to Guide You


As you navigate the complexities of leadership and encounter resistance, these questions can serve as your compass, helping to uncover the unmet needs beneath the surface and turn resistance into a constructive force:


  1. What specific action or change is meeting resistance? Identifying the exact point of contention can help pinpoint the underlying issue.

  2. Have I provided enough context and clarity around this change or decision? Often, resistance stems from a lack of understanding or fear of the unknown.

  3. What emotions are being expressed through this resistance? Recognizing the emotional undertone can reveal concerns or values that need to be addressed.

  4. How can I open a dialogue that feels safe and constructive for those resisting? Constructing a space for open conversation can illuminate concerns you may not have considered.

  5. What compromises or adjustments can be made to meet these unmet needs without deviating from our core goals? Sometimes, a small tweak in approach can resolve resistance and align everyone more closely with the project's objectives.


Resistance, when understood as a signal rather than a setback, becomes a powerful tool for leadership and organizational development. It invites us to look deeper, listen more carefully, and respond more thoughtfully. As leaders, our challenge is to shift our mindset and see resistance as an opportunity to uncover and fulfill the unmet needs of our teams. By doing so, we not only move our projects forward but also nurture a culture of respect, understanding, and shared purpose.

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