How to Recognize Resistance and Stop It in Its Tracks

One goal in coaching is to avoid bringing out or strengthening a client’s resistance. Ultimately, how you as a coach deal with your clients’ resistance determines success.

We as coaches sometimes take the easy way out with “difficult clients” by attributing resistance and lack of success to the client’s personality. However, consider that client resistance is mainly determined by the coach (although there will always be exceptions).

Research in behavioral science has confirmed that the extent to which clients “resist” is powerfully determined by the therapist’s style. This means that client resistance is a coach’s problem. And developing a style that minimizes resistance is important for your clients’ success as well as your own.

So what is resistance?

From my perspective, resistance appears as observable behavior that occurs during sessions. It can signal the coach that the client is not keeping up. The client is saying, “Wait a minute. I don’t agree. I’m not with you.” The task at this point is to double back, discover where the client is, and attend to that point.

To do this, you need to be able to recognize resistance when it is happening. Consider beginning to notice if your client engages in any of these 4 major categories of resistance as defined in Behavior Therapy by Chamberlain et al.:

  1. Arguing: Your client questions your expertise or integrity
  2. Interrupting: Your client interrupts you in a defensive manner by talking over you or cutting you off
  3. Denying: Your client expresses an unwillingness to recognize problems or minimizes them; disagrees with suggestions but offers no constructive alternatives, i.e., “Yes, but…”; blames others and does not accept responsibility; makes excuses for own behavior; or is reluctant or unwilling to take advice
  4. Ignoring: Your client shows evidence of not paying attention to you or ignoring you

Resistant responses are normal during initial coaching and not a reason for concern. It does become a problem, however, if resistant responses persist or escalate during a session or throughout the coaching process. It is largely your behavior as the coach that determines whether initial reluctance turns into a persistent pattern. It is how you respond to client resistance that makes the difference, and that distinguishes Belief Breakthrough Methodwork from other approaches.

So consider paying careful attention to these signs of resistance and take the time to slow down and catch up with your client. Begin by simply acknowledging the client’s disagreement, emotion, or perception so that further exploration—rather than defensiveness—occurs.

Next month I will cover more specific strategies for handling resistance.

P.S. Do you want to share this information? Please do. Just be sure that it remains intact and includes the following bio.

About Terry: Terry Hickey, M.S., is a Certified NLP Professional Coach, Business Trainer and Consultant, a Certified Master Practitioner of Neuro-Linguistic Programming and the co-owner of NLP Advantage Group. Originator of the Belief Breakthrough Method™, Terry specializes in teaching coaches and entrepreneurs how to rapidly resolve limiting beliefs about wealth and success. His tips and strategies can help you launch yourself into the future you want… NOW.

Categories : Beliefs, Coaching Tips


  1. Terry,

    What you say here is so powerful and so important. And it’s pretty radical too.

    In the high-end coaching world, I hear the notion that if the client isn’t moving forward or getting tangible results that it’s the client’s fault.

    I really value your distinction here that as coaches we aren’t responsible for the client’s resistance, but we are responsible for how we respond to that resistance, and our response impacts if the resistance intensifies or lessens.

    Being naturally ambitious and focused and productive, I’ve struggled with this in my coaching. When I realized that *my* emotional reaction to what my clients was the problem, suddenly my clients’ resistance dissolved.

    We are having more fun on our calls together, and they are producing better results.

    Thank you!

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