A woman stood at the head of a desk talking to colleagues.


As a manager or leader, how skilled are you in effective persuasion? How do you effectively persuade your most stubborn and disagreeable colleagues?

This topic has been coming up frequently in coaching conversations, partly because we are living with a great deal of uncertainty and change, and partly because we expect people to act consistently from one situation to the next. The reality is that we respond to different scenarios with different personality traits and strengths. Have you noticed this in your workplace?

Fortunately, even the most stubborn can be flexible, and the most disagreeable can be open-minded. Great managers and leaders pay attention to these instances. They notice when and how people change their minds. Organizational psychologist Adam Grant, PhD, author of Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know (Viking, 2021) describes this as “predictable if…then responses.”

In my last post, here, I wrote about how to overcome arrogance and navigate narcissism for effective persuasion. Now let’s address stubbornness and disagreeableness, and how to harness predictably for effective persuasion.

Persuading the Stubborn

In the 1970’s, researchers surveyed college students on their locus of control—the degree to which they believe that outcomes can be subject to their will, from internal (choice and effort) to external (luck or fate) and their successes (and failures.) Predictably, those who scored higher on external control were more open to external persuasion, including light and forceful arguments. Those who scored higher on internal control were not persuaded by light argument, and moved in the opposite direction by forceful argument.

To harness this predictably, ask open-ended questions to spark creativity, such as “What if…?” This can plant a seed or generate new ideas. Then, take a cue from Improvisation, and “Yes, and.”

Persuading the Disagreeable

Disagreeableness, or argumentativeness, is common among the driven and competitive. They are energized by conflict, and enjoy a good fight. Smart leaders seek out the disagreeable to ensure they aren’t surrounded by “yes-people.”

However, if you need to persuade them, be prepared to battle. If you urge them to back down, they’ll double down. You see, they want you to fight for your ideas and persuade them, often by refining your ideas with updated SWOT analysis, proofs of concept, and supporters.

The people I work with can take pride in their knowledge and expertise, and they align their actions with their beliefs and opinions. But a rapidly changing world requires a certain amount of thinking, and rethinking. This requires cognitive flexibility and effective persuasion; the mindsets, and skillsets.

What do you think? How do you effectively persuade your most stubborn and disagreeable colleagues?

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