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By June 29, 2015Newsletters

In the first of a regular series on how to manage difficult conversations we look at how to deal with Silent Challengers

Everybody who coaches others will at some point come across resistance from a coachee. It is important to recognise that managing resistance is really about managing change within individuals, and should be embraced as part of the coaching process.

Profile of woman writing in date book outdoors

You should assume that even very resistant people do want to change and that their resistance is most likely just an indication that they are working out how to do this. It can, of course, be very difficult to do this because change often sparks powerful emotions in people.
Five key categories of resistors have been identified:

The silent challenger (dealt with in this article)

The aggressive challenger

The conscious clandestine

The unconscious clandestine

The victim.

A silent challenger resists by quietly smouldering with emotions that are bubbling ferociously below the surface, betraying their presence through changes in body language and tone of voice. Silent resistors say very little, struggle to express their emotions and are often the most difficult people to challenge.

You can try to manage silent resistors in a couple of ways:

Where resistance is manifested through frustration, with little openness, you need to build rapport. This can be done through moving to more general discussions that focus on successes, or even moving away from school related discussions altogether until more rapport is built.

It can be helpful to offer gently challenging questions or to feedback their behaviour to them verbally using so-called “I statements”: eg “I notice that we’ve been in this meeting for 5 minutes now and each time I ask you about the difficulties that senior colleagues have reported with your class, you fold your arms and look away. I’m feeling frustrated because I really want to help you get better and experience a more positive relationship with your groups, and I really would be able to do this better if you were to share with me what you need”

Anybody working in a coaching situation should always be on the lookout for signs which indicate that a coachee may be in need of some specialized therapeutic support. They could include:

Obsessive behaviour
Being treated for depression or another mental health condition
Failure to meet goals despite extensive support
Becoming intensely emotional in coaching sessions
Evidence that the coachee is in a negative state of mind for much of the time, both within and outside sessions
The disclosure of unresolved distressing experiences (e.g. bereavement, abuse, medical condition etc.)

Subsequent articles in this series will explore how to manage the other four types of resistors but if you have questions about this please e mail me at