Why Employees Resist Their Bosses · ShiftWorkPlace

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Insights Into Culture and Leadership Episode 3: Why Employees Resist Their Bosses

Why Employees Resist Their Bosses

Resistance means you don’t feel safe.

Managers complain about employees resisting direction, employees complain about bosses resisting input. Both are experiencing resistance inside themselves because of one key reason: they do not feel safe. Unsafe to speak, stand up for something, say they made a mistake, fear of being held accountable. They may feel triggered from a past bad experience which they now project into the current situation. 

This episode covers these four topics to help understand resistance and find solutions: 

  • Part A Your nervous system and its relationship to feeling safe
  • Part B How to create safety for yourself
  • Part C How to create a climate of workplace safety: head, heart, spirit, body and culture
  • Part D Specific incidents of an employee resisting and solutions based on the principle of safey


  • “The reason people resist is because they don’t feel safe. 
  • “Always start with yourself by naming the emotion, measure it, slow your breathing and notice yourself calming.” 
  • “Courtesy is the first sign of safety. Respect is the outcome of courteous behaviour.”
  • “When working with colleagues or  bosses work to create a matrix of safety for the head, the body, the heart, the spirit and the culture”.

Episode Highlights:

Part A Your nervous system and its relationship to feeling safe

Your Amygdala is responsible for perception of threat, even if that threat is not real. 

When there is a perception of threat, the body reacts via the amygdala in an instant freeze, fight, flight response

When someone is resisting you, their amygdala has sent a threat reaction to the body which means they don’t feel safe (resistance is a fight response) 

This helps you to detach from frustration and anger and move to curiosity. 

The remedy to threat is to create a safe work environment where people can grow and prosper, be at their best and speak up. As they feel safe they start to show curiosity about others and their environment. 

Part B How to create safety for yourself 

Question? Why do people resist me? 

Answer: They don’t feel safe

Question? What do I do about that resistance? 

Answer: Start with your self. 

What do I do to increase my own feeling of safety? 

  1. Start with an incident that is bothering you: 
  2. “When I think about X situation…I feel (what emotion?) (angry, frustrated etc.)”
  3. Measure the intensity of the emotion from 1-10.
  4. Slow down your breathing and become conscious of where you feel this emotion in your body
  5. Move to release the energy

Naming and measuring the emotion and its intensity makes it conscious. Slowing down your breathing and becoming conscious of your emotion and its intensity increases the sense of safety in your body and calms the amygdala. This is called metacognition which is thinking about your own thinking, 

Part C Intentionally creating a climate of safety

Creating a workplace matrix is similar to the matrix in the womb that surrounds and nourishes the baby. You can help create this matrix of safety by: 

Helping the head feel safe – give it an explanation and facilitate regular communication of listening, speaking and coming to a shared understanding

Helping the body feel safe – is it pleasant to work in this place, is it ergonomically viable? Would you want to work there? If you wouldn’t why would you allow others to work in that condition? Can they work so their bodies are safe and they leave safe, even improved. You can only do that by asking them if they feel safe and listening. 

Reduce traumatic response by slowing things down and telling them slowly. 

Helping the heart feel safe – listening, acknowledging, validating how other people feel. Acknowledge difference of opinion without vilification of the other person so that polarization doesn’t take place or hatred to occur. 

Treat others with courtesy and civility which creates respect as the outcome. 

Why do people keep rude, disrespectful employees? Because they are afraid to address them – it all comes back to safety. Ask yourself “Why are we keeping this person?” 

Helping the spirit feel safe – If people are trustworthy and show courage to address problems, doing what they say they will do, the spirit feels safe. Intentionally practicing virtues create the matrix of safety for the spirit. 

Purpose and virtue help the spirit to feel safe.

Helping people feel safe culturally – be sincerely interested in others, and ask people about their expectations about how things should be done at work. This allows you to take the temperature of their past work experiences so you can find the cultural safety spot. 

Part D – Incidents and solutions

Always look for the principles involved in an incident to get to the solution. Principle is a high level of behaviour and thought. What principle would help elevate thought and behaviour? 

Incident: An employee is resisting working with a boss. 

  • Maybe they don’t have experience or training. 

Solution? Teach, coach, educate and be patient. But have a timeline in mind and look for progress. If they don’t make progress training is not the issue. 

  • Maybe they feel incompetent to do the task and don’t feel safe saying so. 

Solution? Find out what they don’t know by asking them to show, tell or teach the task to someone else, then fill in the gaps with patience. They may need accompaniment for a while to feel confident. 

  1. Maybe they feel they don’t matter. No one wants to be invisible, it is a denial of our humanity. 

Solution? Show you care. If you truly don’t care, what is missing is you yourself do not feel safe! You may need to practice courtesy and civility with yourself first. 

  1.  Maybe they don’t know how to interact with a person in authority. Or they had bad experiences with a boss when they spoke up in the past. 

Solution? Show and explain to people how you want to hear from them, then wait in silence so people will talk. If you keep talking, they won’t tell you anything. 

  • Experience with too many changes with ‘flavour of the month’ decisions, so employees have become cynical. 

Solution? This will take 18 months of consistent behaviour to assure employees this is not a passing fancy. 

  •  People are unhappy with their job. They act badly or their performance drops. 

Solution? Ask them what is going on, and probe for obstacles to being promoted. Maybe they experienced bias, prejudice or have something else they want to speak about that is frustrating them with their job. Check to make sure you don’t have the bias. If you can’t imagine a person from a certain race, culture, accent or religion in that position, you have a negative bias that can be holding people from that group back from progressing at work. 

  • There is a personality disorder or an addiction issue


Personality problem: They may have had issues with people in authority and just lash out at you because you happen to be a person in authority. Ask them, at a time they are not mad,  if they had people in authority in their past. Then ask them if they are willing to regulate. If not, why are you keeping them? 

Addiction: Ask about substance use and how often they use them, ask about gambling, gaming and pornography use. Recommend them for help. 


  1. People resist because they don’t feel safe
  2. We all have a nervous system which perceives threat via they amygdala and reacts
  3. You can calm this reaction by naming an emotion, measuring the intensity, slowing breathing, moving
  4. To avoid unnecessary resistance build a matrix of workplace safety that helps the mind, heart, body, spirit and culture to feel safe
  5. If you still have resistance reasons may be:  people have been trained,  not feel seen and acknowledged, don’t know how to interact with a person in authority, are unhappy with their job or have a personality or addiction issue

Look for the principle, always start by finding out what the situation is, they apply the principle that would help them to feel safe in the situation. 


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