Skip to main content

Dealing With Resistance in Meetings

Role of a Facilitator
July 18, 2023 10:00 am

It’s true that facilitators set the tone of their meetings, and the process a facilitator provides can go a long way in preventing many forms of resistance. But every once in a while, it’s not you – it’s them. After a quick look at what we mean by resistance, we’ll explore a few examples and provide methods for facilitating through resistance.

Resistance: A Definition

First of all, what do we mean by resistance in the context of meeting facilitation? Just like in common parlance, resistance can mean opposition to somebody (the facilitator, the boss, that certain co-worker) or something (the meeting process, change initiative, process improvement, restructuring), or the refusal to accept or comply with something. So, resistance on the part of a meeting participant can be relatively low-level (e.g., minimally participating in discussions, or it can take an overt form such as personal attacks). Let’s take a look at two examples of resistance and how you can tackle them the next time they surface in one of your meetings.

A Covert Form of Resistance: The Fawner (overly agreeable)

Have you ever realized during a meeting that one of the participants seems to agree with absolutely everything the boss or other ‘power figures’ say? As resistance goes, this can seem almost pleasant – who doesn’t appreciate agreement? Yet it’s still a way of shirking responsibility for ‘stating one’s opinion’ and ensuring that the group comes up with the best possible solution or decision. On the other hand, the fawner may not feel safe to state their opinion for fear of retaliation from the boss or other power figures in the room.

What can you as the facilitator do to tactfully handle a fawner? Set a targeted norm. Here’s our three-step targeted norming model:

  • Describe the challenging situation: I see that we have a lot of different ranks here today.
  • Describe the concern for the participants: Would you agree that it’s really important that you all get the benefit of hearing everyone’s opinions at this meeting?
  • Ask a question that solicits the needed rule or behavioral norm: What rules or guidelines can we all agree to that will encourage everyone to freely speak up?

If the behavior resurfaces, at least you can reference the norm when you challenge overly agreeable behaviour.

An Overt Form of Resistance: Negative Body Language and Tone of Voice

During the idea generation portion of a meeting, have you ever had someone who visibly dismisses most of the suggestions with eyebrow arching or a little smirk to a colleague? Nothing sucks the oxygen out of the room as effectively as this kind of judgement left unchecked. But what can you do without taking too much time away from the purpose at hand? Try our simple Three-Step Intervention Model:

  • Describe what you see: I’m sensing from your body language that some of you may not like that last suggestion.
  • Describe the impact: I’m concerned that this might limit the overall group’s willingness to put out new ideas as they may feel they’re being judged too quickly.
  • Redirect the behavior: Please therefore try to be more neutral with your body language as people share their suggestions. I’ll make sure everyone has an opportunity to speak to their concerns after we’ve generated a list of options.

When appropriate, you can skip the first two steps and jump to the ‘redirect.’ For example, using the intervention above you can narrow it to: As we continue to ask for suggestions, please be cognizant of your body language so that others don’t feel their ideas are being judged at this point. This typically feels like less of a big deal compared to taking the time for stating all three steps, and the ‘redirect’ is the most crucial component.

Want more help with facilitating through resistance? Contact us for one-on-one coaching or check out our public workshops.

Let us Know

Do you have a unique meeting challenge not covered by one of our blog posts? We’re always looking for different dilemmas to discuss in our articles!