How to Work Effectively with Level 2 Resistance

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010


by Rick Maurer


Level 2 Resistance is an emotional reaction to the new idea. In short, people are afraid. They fear that with this change they will lose control over their work, lose respect, become overwhelmed by yet another straw on their backs – or they may be afraid they will lose their jobs.

Typical tactics (Level 1) such as presentations and newsletters aren’t sufficient when Level 2 is at play. You need to engage people in ways that address their fears. To move beyond this wall of resistance, don’t battle it, embrace it. Listen to those who resist change and try to understand how they feel and why they feel that way. Then try to find common ground, incorporating their concerns.

Touchstones were stones that allowed you to test the purity of gold and silver. Take this touchstone test to see if your strategies address Level 2 concerns.

The Touchstone Test

1. Build Strong Working Relationships. Many changes in organizations burn bridges in the process. While the current change may get implemented, the leaders will have a difficult time gaining support for future changes. In other words, their strategies actually created resistance. Do your strategies allow you to build bridges with those who have a stake in the outcome? For example, do you involve these people deeply in creating goals and plans for the change? If not, you may be putting your new initiative at risk.

2. Maintain a clear focus. When resistance emerges and others attack your ideas, it’s easy to lose sight of your original goals. Any strategy should ensure that you are able to keep your goal in mind while paying attention to the concerns of those who have a stake in the outcome. If you only focus on your goal, you will miss mounting resistance. If you only concentrate on the opposition, you will never know when you have enough support to move ahead.

3. Embrace resistance. You cannot move through resistance without letting down your guard and opening yourself up to those opposing change. Embracing resistance encourages employees to talk about their feelings and helps you get to the root of their concern. When you are open to learning more about another person’s view of the situation, you can find common ground and discover ways to transform the negative energy of resistance into positive support for change.

4. Listen with an open mind. People who fear they have something to lose are naturally reluctant to share their questions and concerns. People tell us the truth when they believe we are interested in them. So, create a climate of trust and openness by making a commitment to listen to their concerns with an open mind and heart. And be willing to tell the truth. I have seen resistance melt simply because the person implementing the change was always honest and forthright with people.

5. Stay calm to stay engaged. Few leaders are willing to open themselves to a deluge of criticism. That’s one reason why we may avoid those who resist us. While listening to attacks on your ideas can be very stressful, staying calm and relaxed will help keep you centered on the issue at hand. As people raise questions about your position, listen attentively, and draw them out. Do not attack or give in to them. Instead, use what you have learned to begin seeking common ground.

6. Join with the resistance. It is important to seek a neutral zone that attempts to include the interests of all groups. Asking three questions will help you do this: What’s in it for me? What’s in it for you? And what’s in it for us? As employees answer these questions, especially the last one, listen for common fears and interests in the opinions of those resisting change. Build on those similarities to find a solution that addresses the concern of all parties. By doing so, you can transform opposition into support.


© 1994-2009 Rick Maurer. Rick uses his Change without Migraines™ to advise organizations on how to lead change effectively. He is author of many books including Beyond the Wall of Resistance. Recently, he created the Change Management Open Source Project, a free resource for people interested in change in organizations.