Leading Difficult People, Part 2: The Stubborn Ones

April 20, 2021

We’ve all experienced stubborn people at some point in our careers. Once they have made a decision, their position becomes like a piece of granite. You won’t have much luck trying to move them by brute force. But what you can do is hand them a hammer and chisel and convince them that they have the capacity to use those tools to create a masterpiece. Let’s take a deeper look at how to deal with stubborn colleagues.

Why Are People Stubborn?

Before we talk about the most effective ways to lead stubborn people, it helps to understand them a little better.

You’ve probably heard of the psychological concept locus of control. Your locus of control is how strongly you believe you have control over situations and experiences that affect your life.

People who attribute their successes and failures to external forces, such as chance, fate or luck, have an external locus of control. They tend to be open to persuasion. They will consider and often rally behind a new concept or idea when a strong argument is made.

On the other hand, stubborn people tend to have an internal locus of control. They believe that internal forces, such as their own effort and hard work, strongly determine their outcomes. They admire consistency and certainty in themselves and others.

Neutral or weak arguments won’t sway stubborn people with an internal locus of control. At the same time, though, strong arguments often make them dig in their heels or even move in the opposite direction.

So how can you win over a stubborn person? Try the following approach.

3 Steps for Dealing Stubborn People

  1. Plant a seed. Share the idea with the stubborn person as just a concept. Don’t seek feedback yet. Simply share it as a moment of disclosure or vulnerability: “You know, I’ve had this idea floating around in my head. I’m not sure what to make of it, but I just wanted to share it.”
  2. Water the seed. Adults learn and respond better to genuinely curious questions rather than directives. It requires us to process new information rather than have opinions thrust upon us. You can water the seed by asking questions that start with phrases like “What if we …?” or “Do you think we could …?”.
  3. Cultivate the seed. Create collaboratively. Allow the stubborn person to contribute and shape the idea or concept. You are now building an alliance with the person, recruiting their ideas to help nurture yours. Once the idea has support, run with it until it bears fruit.

Of course, all of this must be communicated in a sincere and respectful way. You’re finding common ground with the stubborn person, not manipulating them.

Sometimes I get pushback on this process from people who think it ultimately gives the stubborn person too much credit for their idea. In turn, I ask them whether it’s more important to get credit or see an awesome idea become reality. Ultimately, our teams, our organizations and our society all benefit when great ideas become well-executed solutions.

This is the second of four personality styles that you may find in people who make work and life difficult. Missed Part 1? Learn how to deal with know-it-alls here. The next blog in this series will discuss a narcissistic personality style.

I’d love to hear your questions and comments. If you would like to discuss this topic further, just drop me a note.

Let’s keep cultivating our culture, together!

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