Meet them where they are and ask the right question: How to turn resistance into collaboration.

Meet them where they are and ask the right question: How to turn resistance into collaboration.

A new client asked me a terrific question during lunch last week: “How do you win over someone who is resistant to you?” To which I replied: “I don’t know, have I started winning you over yet?” We laughed, but my responsive question was intended to be thought provoking.  You see, a short time earlier, he had been quite resistant to my being in his business. Yet there we were, enjoying a great conversation and collaborating for solutions to issues he was facing with his staff.

As we walked back to the office, I remembered advice I heard a friend share years ago: “Just meet them where they are.” I Loved the advice then, and I still love it today.

“Meet them where they are.” What does that mean?

It means stay calm, accept what they are feeling, and seek to understand why. It means you can’t win anyone over (who is experiencing negative emotions) if you respond with defensiveness, arguments, or demands.

In my experience as a conflict resolution specialist, much more often than not, when a person feels they have been heard they begin to move through negative emotions into a space where resolution and problem solving are possible.  I have seen it happen so many times in personal and professional relationships. Sometimes if feels like magic!

Realize that resolution and problem solving doesn’t always occur the minute a person feels heard. Some need a little time to let their anger/angst/frustration/resistance diffuse, and that’s OK! They may need a few minutes, or a day or two, but they’ll come back. When they do, they usually bring solid ideas and a much clearer head to the table.

The magic of “meeting people where they are” happened last week for the client I mentioned earlier, and the week before with another. Each leader experienced a staff member having a complete melt-down, and I happened to be present for both.  One unleashed during a team meeting I was facilitating; the other occurred during a private conversation I walked in on (and was invited to join).

In both situations, the staff members were so taken over by their negative emotions they weren’t able to communicate logically.  (That happens to all of us! Out of control emotions make smart people stupid. Our amygdala hijacks our reasoning ability when we experience strong negative emotions.)

Fortunately, both upset individuals were given a chance to say (ok, yell) what they needed to say, and both were met with complete calmness. I was so proud to witness neither leader assume a defensive posture or argue their positions. Rather, each leader quietly accepted their staff member’s perspective and confirmed their understanding of it.

Next, two simple questions were asked (by me):

  1. “What do you want?”
  2. “What solutions do you suggest for the issues you have raised?”

The first immediately offered an unreasonable solution (still hijacked), but quickly started to calm down.  Within just a minute or two, she became part of a productive, problem-solving dialogue between me, her boss, and the rest of the team members.

The second staff member wasn’t ready to problem solve yet, but the next business day she shared what she wanted. What she really wanted was something unexpected, but do-able. Her leader is already working diligently to facilitate it.

The next time you find yourself confronted by anger, fear, resistance, or animosity, try this:

  1. Accept what the other is feeling. (Stay calm.)
  2. Ask open-ended questions to learn what is truly behind the negative feelings. (No defensiveness, argument or judgment.)
  3. When you think you understand, confirm it. (Demonstrate you listened.)
  4. Ask what he/she wants; what they suggest as solutions. (Then repeat #3.)
  5. Problem solve collaboratively. (Building trust and resilience with each other as you do.)

How do you win over someone who is resistant to you? Meet them where they are.

Call or email us today for more information on leading with emotional intelligence and conflict resolution in the workplace.