How to Resolve the Toughest Resistance

Look at the smiling people protesting the vaccine. Wait a minute! See their smiles? Ah yes…no masks either.

Every day we make decisions based on a mix of facts and faith There is no way we can verify every claim ourselves. Is cholesterol good or bad? Is kale healthy or a hoax played by vegan masterminds? With so much noise on every side of an argument, change, adoption, and conformance are ultimately about what we choose to believe. Since we can’t personally verify all of the evidence, our decisions are commonly based on emotion and connection.

What do you do when people are vehemently opposed to a change? What if they’ve been burned in the past? What if leaders let them down or lied? The stakes are high when it comes to change, whether in our organizations or society. Lives and livelihoods are in the balance. So how do we get people to wear masks, fly in 737s, get a vaccine, wear safety gloves and safety belts, or put their dishes in the dishwasher?

Fear is a fantastic incubator for resistance. More than half of UCFW Local 401 were nervous about getting the vaccine. their actions are a great example of what to do:

Come Together

Did your parents ever call for a family meeting? You knew things were serious when that happened.

Newsletters and slogans do not move hearts. The union organized a meeting to bring together members to discuss the issues. This creates a sense of safety in numbers (even if spaced out) while also setting the stage for group-wide acceptance. If I look around and see my peers nodding and responding favorably to questions, I’m more likely to be persuaded (social proof).

Bring in Taylor Swift…or a K-Pop band

Business leaders did not attempt to explain why knowing they would be met with suspicion. Instead, Dr. Annalee Coakley – a local physician – was asked to address the crowd. Third-party endorsements backed by credentials have a strong impact. Influencers are powerful. Who will be a meaningful voice for your audience?

Put Yourself on the Hot Seat

Workers asked whether the vaccine is safe for asthmatics, the immunocompromised, and overweight. She responded that it’s even more important for these groups to get vaccinated, because they are at higher risk levels.

When I read a book, I underline, highlight, take notes, and draw little diagrams. Passive reading is not enough. If you really want to internalize something you need to engage it. 

Leaders create the same dynamic when they open a discussion where people can ask the most unlikely, basic, and bizarre questions. Questions are engagement. Silence is a landmine.

Dive in Headfirst

I put this last on purpose. Until I’m persuaded that a change makes sense, I may treat your attempt to lead by example with suspicion. Did she really get the vaccine or was that saline? Is he boarding that 737 with a parachute in his carry-on? Explain the direction, the strategy, or the goal, and THEN convert words into action.

Resistance is unavoidable. Our brains are programmed to treat what is new with caution. Blend your facts with a heavy dose of care, credibility, and conversation before asking others to take action with you.

Thoughtfully yours,


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Jeff Skipper
Jeff Skipper is an expert in accelerating change. Clients such as Shell, Goldman Sachs and The Salvation Army have engaged him to achieve dramatic results during strategic transformation by wrapping complex change in motivating mission. He has been quoted in Fast Company, Forbes and HP’s enterprise.nxt. Jeff holds a Master’s degree in Organizational Psychology and is a Certified Change Management Professional.