There is no resistance in coaching

One of the concepts I hear many colleague agile coaches talking about is the concept of “resistance” of the client. Typical sentences are “he is resisting the agile transition” or “I talked to her about X and she resisted the proposals I made”. Now here’s one thing that is important to consider: there is no such thing as resistance, there is just bad communication!

This is actually not just my statement, but also an axiom in neuro linguistic programming: “There are no resistant clients, only inflexible communicators”. Let’s see what it means…

Resistance is an abstract word. You cannot buy 1/2 kg resistance in a supermarket or any other shop (unless you consider electrical resistance, but those are not relevant, of course). Sure enough you know that, but the implications are important: resistance is linguistically called a nominalisation. We are making an [abstract] word out of a process: “resisting”, verb “to resist”. Like any verb, “resist” needs a subject and in this case also an object and possibly complements.


The important parts are the subject and the object: there is no resistance unless subject and object interact in some way and the resistance happens only as reaction to some sentence/concept/behaviour/…

So resistance is the product of an interaction where, in the case of agile coaching, there is the client, but also the coach. When we say “the client resist”, whereis the coach’s responsibility? In other words, saying your client resists is a lazy way to give the client the sole responsibility of your failed communication!

there is no resistance in coaching

I actually believe what I wrote in the title: there is no resistance in coaching. When the client is not listening to me it’s my failure in communicating and interacting with him/her and it’s my responsibility as change agent to find different ways to pass the message in a better way.

Some things to consider:

  • Have you understood the client’s interests, needs, values, responsibilities, …?
  • How was your non-verbal communication? “Resistance” is a sign of defence, so how did you attack?
  • Communication is a systemic phenomenon, so don’t limit your analysis of the situation to THE communication you’re having right now: you might have seeded the responses you’re getting now sometimes even months before or with a different person
  • Sure, you might have been misunderstood: it is still your fault and it’s your job to ensure the client understands the message in the way you sent it
  • Sometimes you need more time than you expect for a message to go through. I perceive in many agilists a sense of impatience when they cannot get results here and now, but human processes and changes might need a long time [and sometimes be incredibly fast for inexplicable reasons, but that’s another topic…}
  • Your responsibility as a change agent is to have the necessary flexibility in the way you communicate with your client and the capability of understanding the client at all the different levels they are communicating with you

Yeah, right, it’s not an easy job, but if you practice you might also say “there is no resistance in coaching!”

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