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How to Understand Resistance and Handle it Effectively

Mike Clayton

Mike’s first law of change: “Resistance is inevitable”

There’s no getting around it, so all you can do is to embrace it, and engage with your resisters.  But how can you do so positively, and increase your chances of a successful transition?

That’s the reason I developed my Onion Model of Resistance, which I started working on back in the 1990s.  It helps us to understand the nature of the resistance we encounter and leads us towards effective strategies.

Five Layers of Resistance

There are five layers of resistance that we encounter and they are summarised in the image below. (click to enlarge)

The Onion Model of Resistance by Mike Clayton

What we find is that, as we uncover a layer of resistance, there is often another layer beneath it.  Each layer is psychologically deeper, it is emotionally hotter, and it is harder to deal with.

Harmonious Engagement with the Resistance

My Golden Rule for Handling Resistance is:

‘I will always respect my resisters’

This means I need to use a harmonious approach that does not clash with them nor seek to put them down.  Our instinctive approaches, to blame, bully, plead, fight, do deals or lie, do not work – or, if they do, are not sustainable.  In my talk – and in the book – I listed a dozen or so techniques, inspired by the principles of Aikido, a Japanese martial art, sometimes called the ‘way of peace’, or ’the way of harmony’.

Three things to remember

The talk ended with three things to remember:

  1. Resistance is part of the process.  It is inevitable.
    Don’t fear it: embrace it.
  2. There is always a reason for the resistance you get.
    It may not be rational, but you can understand it,
    and you can deal with it.
  3. Above all, always respect your resisters.

Management Pocketbooks you might enjoy

The Handling Resistance Pocketbook, by Mike Clayton

The Onion Model, how to handle resistance to ideas, to sales, and to change, along with a host of tips are all in the Handling Resistance Pocketbook.



You may also like:

For more on the Onion Model…

…take a look at this earlier blog, on Handling Sales Objections.

The Golden Rule for Resistance: "I will always respect my resisters"

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What Political Animal Are You?

Tomorrow and Thursday are days out for us

Well, actually, we’re working.  We are at the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development annual HR Development Exhibition at Olympia, London.

If you are there too, come and see us on stand 571, and maybe pop to the Learning Arena at 10am on Wednesday and hear ‘How to understand resistance and handle it effectively’, based on the Handling Resistance Pocketbook.

So let’s have some fun

The Workplace Politics Pocketbook has a lovely model, allowing you to chart yourself against Political Intelligence and Organisational Goal Alignment.  It is most useful for helping you to spot and work with others, but it lends itself to a quick and easy diagnostic for yourself.


Have some fun and answer the questions, recognising that most of us will be a combination of all four types, behaving differently in different circumstances.

Quick Questionnaire

For each of the six groups, select the one that describes you best.

  • A:  Clever
  • B:  Observant
  • C:  Determined
  • D:  Trusting
  • A:  Adaptable
  • B:  Swift
  • C:  Sure-footed
  • D: Loyal
  • A:  Vicious
  • B:  Ruthless when necessary
  • C:  Bad Tempered at times
  • D:  Gentle
  • A:  Cunning
  • B:  Wise
  • C:  Hard-working
  • D:  Innocent
  • A:  Resourceful
  • B:  Silent
  • C:  Noisy
  • D:  Naive
  • A:  Sly
  • B:  Aloof
  • C:  Put-upon
  • D:  A follower

Time to count your scores…

Mostly As:  You old Fox, you!

Foxes are politically intelligent and use their cleverness for personal gain – they are often known for playing games.

Mostly Bs:  What a wise Owl you are

Owls understand the politics and use their wisdom to work for the benefit of the organisation.

Mostly Cs: You’ve grown up to be a Mule

Mules are determined to get what they want, and will ignore the established politics of the organisation.

Mostly Ds:  You’re a trusting Sheep

Sheep are suspicious of politics and only want everything to work out well for all concerned.

This may be a bit of fun, but it has a serious side

Workplace politics trips many of us up, so understanding how to read the signals and play the game is important, and David Bancroft-Turner’s Workplace Politics Pocketbook is an excellent guide for the novice, with some great tips and hints for seasoned politicians too.

Workplace Politics Pocketbook

It is filled with skills to develop and a proper analysis of our four feathery/furry/hairy/woolly friends.  Apologies to David for simplifying his ideas for fun!

This – and all of the Management Pocketbooks Titles are available at special show prices during the CIPD HRD Exhibition.  You can get £1 off any book and if you buy five, you can get a sixth one free – that’s six pocketbooks for £34.95.

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Handling Sales Objections

In last week’s Pocketblog, we looked at one way to make a sale.  But often it isn’t the selling that defeats us: it’s the objections.

CIPD HRD Exhibition

Resistance gets us every time and this is the topic of the Management Pocketbooks Learning Arena Session at the CIPD HRD Exhibition on 6 April.

At that session, I will be speaking on:

‘How to Understand Resistance and Handle it Effectively’

I will speak at 10am, and then return to the Management Pocketbooks stand (Number 571) to meet readers and answer questions.  As well as being the editor and principal author of the Management Pocketblog,  I am also the author of the Handling Resistance Pocketbook.

At the stand, you can get all of the Pocketbooks at the special exhibition rate of £1 off, and if you buy five, you can get a sixth one free – that’s six pocketbooks for £34.95.

Resistance to Sales

I will be speaking about resistance to change at HRD, but to follow from last week’s blog, let’s take a look at how my ‘Onion Model of Resistance’ applies to objections to sales.


The Onion Model

The Onion Model sets out the layers of resistance we encounter – whether to our ideas, to change, or to our sales proposals.  As an example, here is a video of me talking about the fourth layer of resistance to a sale; when the potential customer says something like:

‘I don’t like your proposal.’

In this short video, I am talking about this level of resistance, and illustrating it with an example.


So here’s the deal

Your job, when you encounter resistance, is to engage with it in a positive way.  Identify what level the resistance is at, then deal with it appropriately.  When you handle resistance effectively, it will often just melt away.

The Handling Resistance Pocketbook

The Handling Resistance Pocketbook, by Mike Clayton

The Handling Resistance Pocketbook covers:

  • How to understand resistance
  • The importance of a sound process
  • Ways to start persuading
  • The power of language and questioning
  • Resistance to change
  • Sales objections
  • Conflict
  • The psychology of resistance

My Handling Resistance blog is at

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