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Are You Stubborn? Try These 5 Tips

Learn to master your stubbornness.

Key points

  • Stubbornness can have upsides, but you'll need strategies to work around the downsides.
  • You can learn practical strategies to dial down your stubbornness when needed.
 Vidar Nordli-Mathisen/Unsplash
Source: Vidar Nordli-Mathisen/Unsplash

One of my professional pet peeves is when folks judge certain qualities as a blanket negative (or a blanket positive).

Every quality has plusses and minuses, upsides and downsides. The stronger and more dominant a quality is for you, the more likely it will be true.

What's an example of stubbornness being a useful quality? Here's one: Being stubborn can lead to creativity. If you're hell-bent on doing something your way, you might need to get creative to achieve it. Since you don't want to back down and do it the way other people are suggesting (or eat humble-pie if you fail), you'll be highly motivated to find a great creative solution.

Even though there can be some upsides to stubbornness, sometimes you'll need to work around the downsides of stubbornness.

Here are five ideas you can use when stubbornness isn't serving you and you want to dial it back.

1. Identify who you're willing to listen to

Who are you willing to take advice and feedback from?

Perhaps:

  • From mentors you admire [Insert names]
  • You're more willing to ask for and accept advice from people you know less well (a work connection you're only working with on one short project).

Write out three bullet points like this to elucidate what's true for you.

2. Identify when you're willing to listen

When are you willing to accept advice and feedback?

Perhaps:

  • When you ask for it.
  • When you get written feedback and can digest it before reacting.

Again, write out three bullet points to pinpoint what's true for you.

3. Identify the ways in which stubbornness feels self-protective

  • Stubbornness can be anxiety-based. For example, you want to do something perfectly. You won't bend because you're worried if it's not perfect, it'll be a disaster and you'll end up ruminating about all the imperfections. It's understandable to want to avoid disappointment and rumination.
  • Sometimes people are stubborn because they don't want to be average. They want to do things their own way because they fear being just like everyone else.
  • Sometimes people underestimate their flexibility. They're stubborn because they doubt whether they're capable of incorporating feedback, even if it's useful. By being stubborn, they don't have to face learning whether they're capable of change or not.

There are more examples, but try to think about it for yourself.

4. Identify when your stubbornness is at its worst

Identify what makes your stubbornness worse. Then use what's called "reverse brainstorming" to come up with opposites. This technique will give you ideas about what would help make you less stubborn.

Example 1: My stubbornness is worst when people mansplain to me—when it seems like the person isn't recognizing my expertise, skill, or knowledge.

From this, you can guess that you're more likely to be receptive to feedback and the ideas of others when you trust that the feedback giver recognizes your talents and capacities.

Example 2: My stubbornness is worst when my spouse interrupts me out of the blue to make a complaint, give a suggestion, or make a request.

You can guess that you'll be less stubborn if people make requests of you at times they're not interrupting you, and when you expect it.

5. Identify when your stubbornness is self-sabotaging

Stubbornness sometimes doesn't have major consequences. For example, if you insist you always make your food a particular way, that probably doesn't really matter. However, sometimes the consequences are much larger.

Examples:

  • When your romantic partner gets so frustrated they want to leave.
  • When it makes smart colleagues not want to work with you.
  • When doing something your way isn't leading to success and you risk missing out entirely on something very important to you, if you keep doing the same things.
  • When your physical health is involved (you don't like to be reminded to put on sunscreen so you belligerently don't do it.).

Those are quite general examples. Write about a more specific version related to yourself, your relationships, and your goals and challenges.

Use the other techniques here to address the scenarios in which your stubbornness is having major consequences for you.

Every person is their own unique mixture of different qualities. For some people, stubbornness is one of their qualities. Whatever your nature is, you can learn skills and strategies for managing it, and understanding when particular qualities, like stubbornness, are serving you and when they're not.

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