Here’s how to overcome resistance in your workplace

Here’s how to overcome resistance in your workplace

By Devashish Chakravarty, Director, Executive Search at

You are continuously unhappy with your work and the solution lies in having a difficult chat with your boss.

Whether it is about taking leave during a critical project, being dissatisfied with your increment or having been criticised publicly about your work—you may find yourself avoiding that conversation.

A study says many people prefer having a flu or being pulled over by a traffic cop over a challenging meeting with their supervisor. Here’s how you can overcome that resistance and find happiness.


Choose your emotion
Psychologists say the moment your mind labels something as difficult, it starts generating reasons as to why it will not work out, making the situation appear far worse than it is. Tag the proposed conversation as an opportunity to find happiness and solve a problem. The moment you do so, you can adopt a more optimistic mindset and find the right communication to approach it.

Question the basics
Ask yourself the basic questions—what do I really want? What am I feeling right now? Will getting what I want resolve these feelings? What happens to my relationship with my manager because of this conversation? What situations will the new relationship lead on to? If you find yourself going around in circles or conjuring only negative scenarios, write down your feelings and the outcomes you seek. This will help clear your mind and focus on what really matters while letting go of events colouring your thoughts.

Get comfortable
Are you afraid that all your good intentions may come to naught the moment you are in front of your boss? Will you freeze into silence or blurt out the wrong things? To get comfortable with what will happen, do role plays. Find a trusted friend or family member and do two sets of role plays. In the first, alternatively play yourself and the role of a 3rd party neutral observer. This helps you explore illogical or counter-productive views that you may be holding on to.

In the second set, alternatively play yourself and your boss. This helps you explore emotional nuances and triggers arising from your boss’words or non-verbal cues. In both sets, experiment with different framings of the same situation.

holding on to.

In the second set, alternatively play yourself and your boss. This helps you explore emotional nuances and triggers arising from your boss’words or non-verbal cues. In both sets, experiment with different framings of the same situation.

Triggering the discussion
The second step is to initiate communication. Be professional in your approach. Seek permission for time to meet and discuss. Refer to common ground as the agenda. For example, “I wanted to discuss some thoughts about my performance and expectations”, when you want to discuss your increment. “I wanted to share inputs to improve team performance”, works when you want to resolve a conflict with a colleague.

During the meeting
Your body language speaks louder than your words. If you are afraid of your supervisor or are concerned because you messed up, your body language will convey negativity. To get the best outcomes, focus on breathing deep and slow to calm yourself. Sit straight and maintain eye contact to boost confidence.

Check your style
Approach the discussion as a mutual problem solving session. Your supervisor also wants the issue resolved so that both can focus on the path ahead. Be concise in your description of the situation and exclude minor points that could swerve the discussion into an undesired path. Pause and listen attentively to enable your manager to express herself completely. Reflect on what you understood to eliminate miscommunication.

The book, Crucial Conversations, shares the STATE acronym as a methodology to conduct your conversation. The first three tell you what to do i.e. Share, Tell, Ask, while the latter two are Talk and Encourage which tell you how to communicate. Share your feelings to open the discussion followed by your framing of what happened.

Thereafter request for and listen to the response. An opening phrase like, “In today’s meeting, I felt let down when you criticised my work though I was following directions received on email from my senior colleague. Could you help me understand what went wrong?” encourages professional conversation.

“You unnecessarily criticised my work publicly in today’s meeting though I was in the right because I followed email directions. Why did you do that?” triggers defensiveness or aggression and stalls progress.


Follow-up steps
Thank your manager for his time and inputs before leaving the meeting. If you have arrived at a common action plan, share a summary email with your manager to record it. If the meeting was inconclusive, schedule a follow-on meeting at the earliest reasonable time. Write an email to yourself or a note in a diary recording your version of what was discussed. This serves as a reference to help you deal with the consequences of your meeting or similar situations in the future.

Time alone
During the weekend or when you get some time alone, grab a coffee and your favourite chair and consciously reflect on the outcomes you achieved and how you will move on towards happiness. Also, think about how you approached and conducted the discussion and what could you learn from it to improve your on-going communication. Finally, congratulate yourself for overcoming your resistance and completing a difficult conversation with your boss!


Deal with yourself
Before initiating a challenging conversation, calm yourself. Identify your intention and outcomes you are seeking. If you are afraid of confrontations, rehearse responses to potential situations.

Get your facts
Deal with the communication logically. Marshall your facts about the incident, link it to written company guidelines where applicable and go through relevant emails. Exclude unsubstantiated opinions.

Plan to be wrong
Choose the mindset with which you will approach the discussion. It is possible for both parties to be right or there may be hidden facts. Be curious, listen well and hold off your judgements till the end.

Prop the stage
Choose the setting. A serious discussion during a company party dilutes it. An advisory in your office instead of the meeting room makes it one-sided. Keep a colleague present if you need a witness. Put your phone on silent.

End and follow up
Know when to end a meeting. If either party appears to be losing control of emotions, reschedule talks. Once outcome is achieved, do not stretch the talks. Follow up by checking on the progress.

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