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Trainer’s tip: Resistance is futile!


Russell Williams recently asked for advice and inspiration on our Any Answers forum after coming up against the most reluctant client he'd ever trained. Several trainers shared their thoughts on what to do when faced with total resistance…

Helen Wyatt has been in the same boat:
I'm not a systems trainer, but earlier in the year I had to train a group who were totally resistant to appraisal training, and made it very clear (from the moment they walked through the door) that they thought the whole thing was a waste of time. Several delegates told me they didn't want to be there at all but had been 'made' to come.
Some suggestions from the top of my head would be:

1) Turn this round - ask your client to tell you all the things he likes best about Access. Then show him how he can do it quicker/better/faster with your system.

2) Alternatively, allow him to vent and get off his chest all the things he hates about this new system before you even go near the content. By trying to really understand what his issues are, you may gain an insight into his position and identify some tactics for dealing with it.

3) Agree with him! I wouldn't normally do it, but at my session last year, after several delegates telling me that they didn't want to be there, I said: "You know what? Given the circumstances, I'm not sure I actually want to be here either, but we are here, so let's try to make the best of it. This isn't going to go away, so I'll commit to making this as painless and quick as possible if you can tolerate it for a few hours".

This isn't exactly a textbook way to deal with resistance, but actually, once they realised I didn't except them to love the subject, they backed down a bit. Normally if I was faced with this level of resistance I would just invite people to leave, but this wasn't an option in my case as the organisation had stated the training was compulsory.

4)If he's the one that's paid for the training, I'd ask him why he's hired you if he's not willing to give it a try. If he's an employee, then perhaps his line manager might be able to help talk him round.

5) Has anyone else been trained in the new system yet who could tell him the benefits from their perspective, rather than a trainer's view? He may have more time for it after hearing from someone on the 'shop floor'.

Paul Edmondson says find out what's in it for the trainee:
Sounds like you've tried some strategies to bring him round! I wouldn't wish this kind of negativity on my worst enemy! A couple of other things that you might want to consider:

1. Rather than focus on the difference, could you explore the similarities that the new system has with Access? Some people are fearful of change, and need to see how things are the same.

2. You said that you tried to make your client understand the benefits of the new system. Is it realistic to think that we can 'make' people understand anything? Another approach would be to ask him what he sees as the benefits. That way, he'll be able to describe them from his own point of reference.

Some questions I might ask would be:
'How are you going to make the system work for you?'
'What do you see as the financial/productivity/customer benefits of the new system?'
'What's the opportunity cost?'
I'm not even nearly an NLP expert, Russell, but I hope this helps!

Craig Willis says fear could be the root cause:
I've been in a similar situation before. In my case the person in question was frightened to death that they would loose their authority, even their job, by being replaced by this new system. Every time I tried to explain the benefits of the system it made the situation worse.

With the help of the line manager we worked on how the system would make their lives easier and allow them more time to do more of the things they really enjoyed.
Another option may be to sit with this person and work through how things are done now and how they could be improved. If this is just an employee of the client then I think they have a responsibility to help you with this.

Yuvarajah Thiagarajah thinks organisational objectives are paramount:
I would like to add my perspective to the situation by probing: “Is there more to the resistance than just being uncomfortable working with the new system?”
Just like the rest, I have been there. I have often wondered why training has reluctant trainees, in the first place. Leaving the trainee aside, does it not tell much about the level of inclusiveness surrounding the journey of performance improvement sought through training and/or other means. In your case, was the incumbent constructively engaged in his own competency development agenda?. How was the new training skill tied to the overall big picture in terms of performance objectives and measures.

Yes, you could try turning him around by making comparisons, and /or selling the benefits of the new system. My best suggestion would be to revert to HR and/or line manager in finding out what is the source of his/her concern. Taking it one level higher provides an opportunity to see a bigger gap in the organisational system and, thereby, ensures post training effectiveness. The discussion could lead to identifying issues within the work system which may be contributing to the mental block in understanding and appreciating the need to move beyond MS Access.

I feel the most fundamental missing link in instances where you have difficult trainees is because there is no alignment between the objectives/goals of trainees and the organisation.

Jooli Atkins says 'don't get hung up on your feelings'
Enough said - we have all been there and I do feel for you, particularly with systems training.

One thing you might try is psychological judo - in other words, doing what he doesn't expect you to do. Ask him why the new system will not work and how Access did this better. Each time you have a benefit, ask him to tell you how that will not benefit him, etc.

You do not say whether he is part of a group or one to one? If part of the group he could be having more of an impact on the rest and you need to be very aware of that. Don't let him hijack the learning of others. If one to one then dig a bit deeper - use some of the options offered by your colleagues here to find out what he is resistant to.
Above all, don't let his attitude affect your impact on others - it is about him, not you, so don't get hung up on your feelings.

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Total resistance

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