Difficult students won’t be difficult students forever

It is so frustrating, and even a little demoralizing, when you use all your best skills to lay out a new behaviour that you want your users to adopt, and then that one person dismisses you.

I’ve been there.


I’ve prepped a full 30 minute presentation, brought in exciting, eye-catching visuals, the jokes integrated with the material, and the practice group gave very positive reviews. I rehearsed until the content and the visuals flowed together perfectly. It was going to be a presentation to be proud of. I was confident that it would have the impact I hoped for.

And then, near the end of the presentation, when everyone was laughing, the barriers to resistance were falling, and I was just about to lock in the message in a way that would have a lasting impact, came the loud, and dismissive scoff. At the back of the room (it’s always the back, isn’t it?) someone wanted to let the whole room know, including me, that they had no intention of changing.

They thought they knew better. They might not have known exactly what they knew, but they thought they knew better. And they wanted to let everyone else know that I had nothing to teach them.

Resistance is frustrating

This happens every time you present a new idea: whether in an in-person presentation like I was, or in a video or in written material. There will be the stubborn people who simply refuse to change and might even go so far as to stubbornly, and irrationally, cling on to their current behaviours.

Why? People are bad at admitting that we are wrong. We are bad at changing our perspective. We are bad at leaving the community of thought we think we belong to and joining a new community. It is far easier for us to continue to engage in risky behaviours than to change who we think we are.

Good news and bad news

The bad news is that there is nothing you can do to eliminate all stubborn resistance at the point of presenting a new idea. It is going to happen. There is a lot you can do to lower the chance of meeting this resistance across a large group of people, but you will never defeat 100% of your resistance in 100% of your audience. There will always be at least one who scoffs. 

The good news is that the point of presenting a new idea is not the end of the story. You need to bring all your skills together to keep on presenting, keep on convincing, and keep on connecting with your people to allow them to naturally shift.

Persistence, regular contact, and empathy are your tools to warmly invite the Resistant to change.

Invitation, not assimilation

Your plan, then, has to include constant contact, a plan to keep showing up, a plan to speak, and a plan to listen. Present your evidence, present your solution, connect with your people, and even listen to the scoffing.

And over time, some will stubbornly follow the new idea, join the new community, adopt the new perspective, and scoff at anyone with a differing opinion…

Your difficult students won’t be your difficult students forever. They might just end up being at the core of your security champions.

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