It is evidently clear that personality traits vary from situation to situation. I have used the highly simplified equation; Personality + Situation = Behaviour to demonstrate this reality for many years. This shows that although personalities can be wide and varied, and of course influence how people respond, the other key variable is the situation they find themselves in.
We all know leaders who are so sure of themselves that they reject opinions and ideas from others and hang on to their own bad ideas long after their sell-by dates. The good news is that it is possible to get even the most narcissistic and disagreeable people to open their minds. Here is how.
‘If – Then’ Situations
Humans can be messy but that does not make them totally unpredictable. We all have an ‘If – then’ capability. A pattern of responding to particular situations in habitual ways. Even the most open minded people have moments when they shut down and adopt fixed mind-set traits. Vice-versa, even the most rigid, fixed-mindset people can flex at times.
If you want to reason with people who present as unreasonable, then pay attention to instances when they, or others like them, change their minds. In his latest article for Harvard Business Review Adam Grant, who is an organisational psychologist at Wharton business school, gives us some tips on how to approach the apparently unreasonable.
Pass the Baton
Intractable people often perceive consistency and certainty as virtues. Indeed in many situations they can be. However, their views can become more pliable, if you pass them the baton in your conversations. Their stubborn reactions often stem for the value they place on control. They are used to bending reality to fit their will. With such characters approach them with a mind-set of co-creation. Let them contribute to the shape of the outcome by framing questions that encourage them to take control of the outcome.
This requires you to spend less time working out the best outcome from your perspective and more time thinking about questions that will encourage critical thinking on the part of your intractable colleague or boss.
Narcissist’s Enjoy Praise
Many highly capable specialists truly believe they are special and somehow superior. They don’t take kindly to being challenged or, heaven forbid, being told they are wrong. I always bring to mind the character Sheldon from the hilarious US comedy The Big Bang Theory, brilliantly played by Jim Parsons. Sheldon epitomizes this type of character and much of the humour in the show comes from his friends having to work around this view of himself.
Narcissists tend to have instable self-esteem. They crave status and approval and can become hostile when their fragile egos are threatened. In his article, Adam Grant suggests that by appealing to their desire to be admired, this can counteract their knee-jerk tendency to reject a difference opinion as criticism.
Leading any challenge with some praise, critically in an area that is different from the one in which you hope to change their minds, is the key. Avoid the ‘feedback-sandwich’, where the criticism is placed between a leading and lagging compliment, as this is proven not to work. We remember the beginning and end of every story the middle gets blurred.
The reason leading with praise works for Narcissists is that it confirms your respect of them and once this is established then they can be very open to acknowledge their imperfections.
Disagreeable personalities are energised by conflict. However, they don’t always want you to bend to their will. They appreciate people who have their own views and are willing to defend them. Organisations need strong willed, visionary executives and leaders but they also need followers who are skilled at judging when and how to challenge and effectively counter-act fixed mind-set leaders that hold on to ideas that are well past their sell-by date.
As Adam summarised in his article, when leaders lack the wisdom to question their convictions, followers need the courage and skill to persuade them to change their minds.
Put another way. Difficult, disagreeable characters are in your life for a reason. That reason is to improve your skills. Are you up for this growth challenge? Many are not. Those that are, and have developed the skill to disagree agreeably, tend to reap the rewards they deserve.
If you want to learn more about the art of influencing ‘difficult’ people then contact me and we can start a conversation that will help.