How Do You Respond to Conflict and Resistance?

Posted on 05/01/2008 in Handling Objections

One of the most popular topics in our Influence and Sales Workshops is the subject of resistance and conflict. When you need to influence someone, whether it is a colleague or a customer, learning how to handle resistance is a key skill. This month’s newsletter will address the most common reasons why people resist, and some practical tips on how to overcome resistance in a constructive way. 

The 5 Most Common Reasons for Resistance

There are many reasons why people resist. STAR has surveyed thousands of participants and managers, and the 5 most common reasons for resistance are as follows:

  • Resistance to Change- "I like the current system (or process, product, service, etc.).” 
  • Time Pressure or other Priorities- "I’m too busy”.
  • No WIIFM or No Perceived Benefit- "What do I gain from this?”
  • Argumentative by Nature - "No.”
  • Conflicting Goals- "Our goals/objectives are different than yours.” 

Three Ways to Respond Constructively to Resistance

Because there are so many reasons that people may resist, you should not be surprised if you encounter resistance when you attempt to influence customers and colleagues. Here are three general guidelines on how to respond to resistance in a positive way.  

  1. There is no single best way to resolve conflict or resistance. The most important initial step that you can take is to assess or diagnose the underlying reason for the resistance. In other words, once you have identified the root cause for the resistance, you can then develop an appropriate response. Use the above list as an example: Your response to "too busy” would be different than your response to "no perceived benefit”.
  2. Cite areas of commonality. It is easy during a disagreement or argument to focus on the differences between your two positions or opinions. However, research on successful influencers and successful negotiators has shown that an effective response is to highlight areas of agreement to the other person. This helps to defuse the tension and the sense that the two of you are so far apart.
  3. Sometimes the resistance is minor and easily resolved. In other cases, the resistance is more substantial and requires more effort on your part. For example, what should you do if the other person becomes nasty and confrontational?  Those situations require both more effort and control by you. In these extreme cases, you need to avoid the natural temptation to sink to the other person’s level and to "play the same game”. Don’t respond in kind! Take a break, let the other person vent, table the agenda item, show empathy…but don’t become adversarial in response. 

STAR has three workshops that address the skills and concepts in this newsletter.  Please visit our Sales Workshops Page online to learn more about these workshops that teach the skills involved in handling resistance and conflict:  How to Achieve Results Through Influencing WorkshopSales Negotiation Skills Workshop, and Essential Selling Skills each teach how to effectively handle resistance.