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  • Writer's pictureColleen Nelson

Why Won't They Do What I Ask?

Updated: May 22, 2023



Through the years of managing, coaching, and developing people I have come across my share of resistance. Sometimes the push back comes from an employee. Other times there is an internal partner who is not willing to do what is asked. I have also had my fair share of times where I need a client to act only to experience opposition.


These are a normal course of business. I assume many of you have stories for these same scenarios. Accepting resistance as the first response to what I need has allowed me to see it as noise and slowly move people from a point of opposition to a point of support. I have never thought much about why people do not just do what is asked. Until one day I was in a mentoring session.


I was sitting with two executive level leaders in my company. We had moved past the formal mentoring discussions and into general discussion. The more senior leader made a comment that started as rhetorical.


I just do not understand. Why aren't people doing what I ask?


The thought did not come from a place of arrogance. He was genuinely curious. The direction of the conversation moved into an open discussion with the focus on trying to better understand people. Everything was on the table. Were we making a good decision? Were they clear on why the decisions were being made? Did people just not like him?


The question stayed with me. I have been able to break all scenarios into three reasons. People do not do what is asked because either; they do not think it is important, they do not agree, or they do not know how. In some cases, it may even be a combination or all three of these.


They Do Not Think It is Important

People do work they deem as important and the right way. If you are asking them to make a change it is critical to explain why the change is important. I have found quicker response and more sustainability when I explain why the task is important to the company, the team, and to them. To do this effectively you have to know what is important to your audience.


They Do Not Agree

If a person does not agree with what is being asked of them, it is again critical to find out why. In these scenarios I have found that people often think they will have to make some type of sacrifice to what they deem as important. Once you understand the reason for their resistance try to find a mutual purpose by using AND. Find a way to address their concern AND still achieve your objective.


They Do Not Know How

Work has changed. Technology has a steep learning curve. And while it may add efficiencies it is only as effective as the people behind it. Additionally, roles have continued to evolve. While a person may have held a title for a certain amount of time, they may not have had an opportunity to do all tasks associated with that role. When asking someone to act or make a change you will have more success if you can break down that ask into manageable tasks that the other person knows how to perform. You may even consider training or having people work in a team with diverse skills and experience.


For tips on how to have meaningful engagements and navigate change check out Effective Engagements (plenitudeco.com) and As The Twig Is Bent So Grows The Tree (plenitudeco.com).


Since identifying these three reasons for push back and being willing to work through each I have been able to move forward with what is important. People want to contribute to what matters. While we cannot control people, we can try to understand each other. Through that understanding we can reach a mutual purpose and move forward together.


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