I operate a unit of six staff in the IT sector, developing bespoke solutions for companies. My team is highly skilled and passionate but two of them are extremely stubborn and almost always refuse to compromise on differences of technical opinion between themselves, others and even me. I admire passion but inflexibility is becoming, I think, a problem for our development. What should I do?
JP, Abu Dhabi
In the dynamic and constantly changing tech world, what are important leading edge skills today may not be the required skills of tomorrow. This sector in particular is littered with examples where the initial seeds of success have ultimately sown a company’s downfall. The stubbornness and inflexibility therefore of the two staff members you describe, will certainly sap the energy and enthusiasm of those around them; stifling essential creativity and eroding team morale and performance. In highly dynamic and fast moving environments, inflexible individuals have a propensity to become overly rigid and over time, irrelevant. Inclusivity of others’ knowledge, experience, perspectives and opinions are necessary and important to constantly improvise and thrive within your sector.
Another risk of being inflexible and stubborn is that you may be blinded by your own abilities and as a result, unable to see other courses of action that may be in the best interest of the team, stakeholders and the organisation as a whole. Inflexible people are often talented specialists with admirable skills vital to the success of the team. However, on an interpersonal level they don’t always have the emotional intelligence to fully grasp the impact of their behaviour. It makes for very difficult collaboration with others; these individuals are likely to come across as arrogant which may erode their influence and have a negative impact on their work relationships. It can cause colleagues to lose respect for them, and compromise productive communication within the team and with external stakeholders.
Fortunately, on the positive side, low flex colleagues can be good at establishing systems, compliance and ensuring efficiency in the organisation. Saying that, bringing rigour is not the same as being rigid. Underlying the rigidity could be an element of anxiety and an attempt to defend something that is vital to them. Not compromising could also be a way of protecting their identity, authority or level of control. As a first step forward, have a conversation that allows you to gain an understanding of what might be driving their behaviours. Knowing what drives their stubbornness, you are better equipped to introduce ideas that could help neutralise their potential concerns and dissolve their arguments. To skilfully manage this will require sensitivity and good communication from your side.
In those instances where you agree with their position, offer your agreement early on. This will take the attention away from their behaviour and maintain the team’s momentum. At the same time, you want to respectfully disagree when you are not aligned with their thinking. Do not allow these individuals to dominate group discussions. Instead of returning the inflexible behaviour, maintain self-control and model the kind of interactions you expect.
Demonstrate the importance of exploring diverse points of view in providing a wider scope for problem solving and creativity. It is important that you, and the other team members, are able to express your opposing opinions without feeling intimidated or ignored. Create the expectation and norm that everyone is able to speak up in a positive and respectful way. From your side, be sure to direct the communication flow as needed; be polite but firm.
Changing the way others interact at work is not an easy task. It will require a healthy amount of patience from your side and a real desire to engage differently with these individuals. Manage your own response to their stubbornness and take the time to explore and understand where they are coming from. It is critical that you enhance their self-awareness of the impact their behaviour is having on the team.