Joe Fedison - Overcoming Resistance To Training
When dealing with change, one of the biggest challenges of corporate training today is, “How do you get everyone to buy-in?” There have been many studies and much has been written about it. This article will focus on the way an individual’s beliefs affect their buy-in and what you can do about it.

Belief can be a make or break element of a training program. If there is any aspect of training program that people do not believe in, they could use that to diminish the value of the entire program. Whether it happens consciously or subconsciously, it doesn’t matter. The results will be a resistance to training. That is why overcoming belief issues should be addressed in the early stages of training programs.

On the other side, you can just say, “This is the way it is, experts say it will work, whether you believe it or not.” Whenever I think of this philosophy I think of the quote, “A man convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still.” Yes, it is old (and catchy), but it is true and I don’t know why people think it doesn’t happen. Just because a company forces their employees to do something against their will doesn’t mean it was a success; even if profits increased. If the goal is to get the BEST out of the team then that approach will NEVER work.

Training Resistance Beliefs

BELIEF 1. I don’t believe it will work. “The concept is flawed.”

This usually falls underneath the if/then category: “If we do this, then this will happen.”


  • IF we do presentations “This Way,” THEN our sales will increase.
  • IF we come out from behind the register, THEN customers will know which line is available.
  • IF we start using a new CRM, THEN our client engagement will be…well, more engaging.
  • IF we dance on the bar, THEN more guys will come in and drink.
  • IF we encourage our guests to mingle, THEN that will enhance their travel experience.

These, and many others, were ideas created/approved by upper management, but designed to be facilitated mostly by non-management/frontline employees. Good idea or bad idea is not the point and sometimes you really don’t know until it is actually being implemented. The point is, if trainees don’t believe it will work they will naturally be resistant to learning.

BELIEF 2. I don’t believe the concept adds value. “It’s not going to change anything?”

Some companies copy the innovations of other companies. If it worked for them, it can work for us, which is not always true. Or, the change is believed to be something that just adds more “tedious” work. If the trainees believe that to be true, then there will be resistance to learning. They’ll say, “It’s a good idea, but our customers won’t like that.” Or, “That works for large companies, but we just don’t have the personnel to pull it off.”

BELIEF 3. The process is flawed. “It will never work this way!”

Your team can believe you have a good idea and it could work, but they believe you are going about it the wrong way. The chatter among them is, “They (management) should listen to us, we know what is going on in reality. This doesn’t make sense.” If someone believes something will NEVER work, their brain will assist them in finding reasons to prove that point. No one wants to make themselves a liar.

BELIEF 4. Incapable or Unqualified. “Honestly, I can’t do that.”

There are many people, for many reasons, who claim they are not able to change. A lot of times it is a fear they have, which is a belief. It is tough for them to step out of their comfort zone and do something new. They make comments like, “Why do we have to change, everything is working fine just the way it is?” You need to dig for the underlying reasons. Do they feel they are not able to learn the new computer system? Are they just afraid to greet a total stranger? Are they just trying to protect themselves from looking stupid in front of their peers? These are real beliefs that people have and addressing them is critical to the success of any training proposition.

BELIEF 5. It’s only good for the company. “What’s in it for me?”

What about me? At some level, most people are concerned with their rewards, whether they admit it or not. There has to be some type of return. If everything is perfect with your training and you have addressed all the other “belief” concerns then this one will not be the make or break difference. The main difference will be the opportunity to go from good results to fantastic results. Complete buy-in includes a feeling of fulfillment for all the participants, whether it is perceived or real. Find out why this is good for everyone and make sure they can believe that. NOTE: “Keeping your job” is not the best “What’s in it for me?” answer.

SOLUTION: Don’t Take People’s Beliefs Lightly

If you don’t overcome their belief objections, the fence sitter believers can easily fall prey to the non-believers. Now you have more dissenters than you started with. That’s why you want to stay out in front of it. Be proactive and address as much of the “belief” concerns before any content is ever taught. Even if the concepts you are training on work, make sense, are easy to implement, and will enhance the employees position, that doesn’t mean they will believe it. Belief is a funny concept, it doesn’t have to be based on fact and can change at any moment.

As adults we have setup our own rules as to what has to happen for us to believe or not to believe something. To complicate matters, this verification process in our brains is so complex it is virtually impossible to have two systems that are exactly alike in two different people. Therefore, there is no guarantee that what works for one person will work for another. The biggest mistake any training facilitator can make is assuming everyone’s beliefs are onboard with the training.

Keys To Overcoming Belief Training Resistance

For the most part, when someone says they don’t believe something what they are saying is based on what I have seen and what I know, this doesn’t sound right to me. People have the right to think anything they want. Clearing up any misdirected information is one of the easiest ways to overcome Belief Training Resistance. Below are 7 keys you can use to convey what the training really is before someone creates beliefs of what they THINK it is.

1. Address Their Beliefs Early

Have an outlined approach and address their beliefs before the training begins or right after the introduction. Involvement and engagement are the keys. Be upfront and honest. You can say something as simple as, “In order for this program to be successful we understand there are several things you need to know before we get started. We would like to address them now.”

2. Don’t Leave Out Any Details

Four words that can fuel a non-belief epidemic in training are, “I told you so.” This is what trainees say to each other when they get to the point in the class where they are asked to do something that they believe was not mentioned, not assumed, or just plain hidden from them and affects them adversely. Once this has happened, it’s easy for the trainees to take that experience into every aspect of the training, waiting for the “Gotcha” moment.

3. Encourage Feedback

Let your team know that the goal of this training is to become better than we were and that feedback will be welcomed. Sometimes just knowing they have a voice can reduce the concerns when change is involved. They may think, “If this is so bad, then why are they letting me voice my concerns…maybe it’s not going to be bad.” This is a understandable example of how a person justifies a change in their beliefs.

4. Show Don’t Tell

If you have any facts, then use them. Show graphs, slides, etc. Be as visual as possible while explaining how the training is or is not going to be. As far as believability goes, visual proof is one of the strongest mechanisms (peer testimonial is another). Try an empathy exercise and ask yourself, “If I was a trainee, what would I need to see to prove this training will work, be valuable, etc.?”

5. Let them Sleep on it.

In this case, you obviously need a second day. Since we are only talking about getting past the Belief stage it could be scheduled as a short precursor to the formal training. Why is sleeping on it important? There is actually a scientific answer. When we sleep our brain consolidates all of the information that we received during the day. It’s like a big filing system. It even makes connections that you consciously weren’t even considering. It puts everything in a nice order so it becomes clearer and easier to manipulate the next day and that increases the opportunity for making a better decision.

The other reason is that most of our daily decisions are made quickly from an area in our brain that deals with our emotions. A lot of times it is on autopilot. Did you ever blurt out something quickly and think to yourself, “Why did I say that?” The answer is because the emotional part of your brain has a powerful influence on your (re)actions. Think about it, if you had the option of holding it in and saying it the next day, would you? As a trainer, CEO, business leader, etc., you should want to have your team making decisions based more on clear thinking and logic, and sleeping enhances that ability.

6. Be Authentic

You can be completely honest, totally caring, but if people don’t feel you are authentic they might think, “They must be hiding something.” This is not about someone being nervous speaking in front of a group. People understand that and it is actually an endearing quality that can add to the belief of those in the audience. The rule here is quite simple: Try not to be someone you are not.

7. Be Cognitive

Learn some basic concepts on how the brain works and implement them into your training. Number 5 above is one of those concepts. Learning how people make decisions would be a great place to spend your time also.

If you have had great training programs in the past with lackluster results, you might want to find out what the beliefs of trainees before your next class begins. All of these keys are designed to overcome training resistance due to negative beliefs. This strategy works by giving trainees the tools they need to make better decisions. This can be a double-edged sword. If you have a fantastic training program that will grow and support the company as a whole then these keys will be helpful. If, on the other hand, the training is flawed then your team will come to realize that too.

What’s the takeaway?

Don’t make yourself crazy. You can do everything right and still have someone saying, “I don’t get it, this is dumb?” It’s part of the human condition. Do the best you can with what you have. Be honest, dig in and be part of it. People stand behind a person who tries hard to do things right and find it easy to forgive them when things go wrong.

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