If you are a trainer or coach, you’ve likely experienced the challenge of dealing with a resistant learner. Whether they just tune you out with fake head-nods or blatantly resist with belligerent, irrational arguments, there will always be people who, despite your best efforts, are unreceptive to change.
Whether the barrier to change is based on ego, lack of payoff, relational issues or competing beliefs, there are four strategies, the “four Ps,” that will help you motivate even the most resistant learner: priority, pressure, point of view and principles.
Before we dive in, take a moment to think of a rep, a recent training participant or team member you can’t convert. Got one? For the sake of clarity, let’s call him or her Pat (it’s gender-neutral, and it’s another P). Let’s see if we can motivate Pat by applying the four Ps.
It’s simple but may be the most overlooked question when encountering a resistant learner: Why is it in their best interest to change? Think about your Pat. Can you answer that question? If you struggle to come up with a reason, Pat clearly isn’t the priority. That’s not your intention, but that’s the message you’re delivering to Pat.
Grappling with this question not only keeps you focused on the learner’s payoff for change but, more importantly, communicates that you care. Your objective is not to put on a show or hit a number but to serve. Something powerful occurs when we encounter that rare person who genuinely cares and focuses on what is best for us.
So, does Pat know they are the priority, that your only goal is to help them get what they want? If not, tell them. The rep with the ego will stop playing games. The quiet resister might open up. The debater will shift from defending and arguing to communicating what they really want.
Another hidden barrier to change is the resistance to pressure, perceived or real. Because of your role as trainer, manager or coach, you are the authority figure with a perceived agenda – to get others to do something different. If the learner is already on board, there’s no pressure. But if Pat senses, like a tug of war, that you are trying to move them in an unplanned direction, they will instinctively pull back.
Simply put, their focus is on the pressure and not the truth. Remember that when there’s a tug of war, the barrier is emotional, not logical. So, stop fighting and drop the rope®. Tell Pat that change is their decision. Communicate that your role is to just share your perspective and allow them to decide what’s best for them.
Ask yourself, are you communicating that all options are acceptable – even the ones that are clearly unwise? Have you dropped the rope and allowed Pat, without pressure, to determine what they want to do? If you do, the tug of war ends, you become an ally and the logical side of their brain begins to see the wisdom of your recommendation.
Point of View
You have a point of view. You can clearly articulate why change is needed. You’ve prepared your talking points, thought about your learning objectives and your desired outcomes, and even prepared for the toughest questions. But can you articulate Pat’s point of view? Do you know what Pat is thinking and feeling about the topic at hand? If you do, does Pat know that you do? Until then, your best attempts to convert the resistant learner are futile.
The typical posture of the instructor is to stand while the learner sits or sit on the opposite side of his or her desk. To successfully influence, this position needs to change. We need to metaphorically sit beside learners, leave our position of authority, set aside our own point of view and see the world from the learners’ perspective. Whether we are developing a course, facilitating or coaching, until we can articulate Pat’s point of view as well as or better than they can, Pat will never see our point of view.
Have you personally had that “oh!” moment? That moment of clarity when you finally see why Pat is resistant to change? Everyone has a reason for what they do or believe. The “oh!” moment doesn’t mean you agree with them, but you do understand them. Not only will you have an intellectual epiphany, but you will also feel differently. Compassion will replace frustration.
Secondly (and this is where the magic happens), validate Pat’s perspective by feeding it back to them. “So, the reason you X is because you were concerned that Y?” If you’re successful, you’ll hear the magic word, “exactly.” It’s typically spoken with passion and a sense of satisfaction for being understood.
Changing your position and working to see their point of view is not only one of the greatest gifts we can give another human being, but it almost guarantees that the listener will accept the invitation to see our own point of view.
When training, what do you usually start with? Learning objectives? Consider starting with a principle.
A principle can explain the undeniable truth for what you are about to teach. It can quickly explain the necessity for a new and different way. The principle highlights the problem and creates a desire to embrace the solution that follows. If the learner embraces the principle, he or she will easily embrace the solution you offer. Consider Archimedes’ Principle. If the weight of the water displaced by an object is less than the weight of the object, the object will sink. Therefore, wear a life jacket.
That “therefore” is the change we seek. If the principle is embraced, the “how” is embraced as well. Belief drives behavior. Therefore, focus on helping Pat develop a new belief before teaching them how to behave differently. If resistance resurfaces, return to the principle.
Think about your training programs or coaching sessions. Have you identified and articulated the undeniable principles? If not, identify where you encounter resistance, and determine the fundamental law for why a new way is required. If Pat agrees, it’s downhill from there.
As you think about “Pat,” consider your approach. Perhaps you are missing a P? Give it a shot. It may take a bit more time and effort, but ultimately, you will be able to reach a few more of the unreachable.