7 Ways to Deal with “Rigid Inflexibles”
We had an inflexible support-person, where I worked years ago. She freaked out at the hint of change. The guy who I replaced in the organization told me she was satan. She felt the same about him.
When “Rigid Inflexibles” run the show:
- Fear of offending them controls interactions.
- Tough conversations go one way.
- Innovation and progress slow or stall.
- Violating the “rules” is a capital offense. Throwing people under the bus may become a means of control.
Organizations need “rigid inflexibles” even if some think they’re satan. You don’t need the dark-side of their strength. But without them, instability and inconsistency escalate.
Appreciate the stability “rigid inflexibles” bring to organizations. Sure, they stress themselves and others. They complain about missed commons. But, they’re great at following procedures and delivering consistent results.
“Rigid inflexibles” love systems that prevent failure.
7 ways to deal with inflexible bosses:
- Adapt to them. They won’t adapt to you. No one likes to be changed especially an inflexible boss. They’ll lash out like caged animals if you pressure them.
- Admire their strengths and say so. Say, “Your personal consistency brings stability and consistency to our organization.”
- Accept, embrace, and answer their discomforts or fears. You’re crazy if you tell them it will be ok or things will work out.
- Give them time to mull things over. Don’t spring stuff on them.
- Establish rituals and routines. Avoid adding stress to their stressful lives.
- Employ the 3 to 1 rule. Say at least three positives for one negative.
- Get on their team. Help them succeed.
Bonus: prepare them for new ideas by talking about problems not solutions. Ask things like, “What are we losing if we don’t take action?”
Frustration with someone seldom changes them for the better.
What are the strengths and weaknesses of “rigid inflexibles?”
What are the best ways to deal with a rigid inflexible boss?
Check out “Focus” by Heidi Grant Halvorson and E. Tory Higgins for great insights on preventers and promoters. I use the insights in “Focus” every day.
With inflexible bosses, you present ideas like seeds – usually they grow eventually and the come back and say – I have this great idea, why don’t you do “this”
Thanks Bill. 🙂
I love this, it is so true, you just have to grin when they tell you your idea. WHEW! sometimes that is not easy, but it is very wise.
your goal is to always make your boss happy, and sometimes it takes some management up.
Interesting, I had not thought of rigid people that create conflict and bringing something of value to the team. Perhaps they can help in telling the story of where following a path of not structure or consistency leads to repeating the same failures time and again. Certainly they would be motivated to get the word out about where the policies and processes are stored centrally and how they can be altered or added to.
For an inflexible boss, I can’t say I have much good advice. I’m so attracted to new ideas and change that I’ve simply moved away from rigid micro-managers (perhaps I’m unfairly linking those two traits, based on my own life experiences). I suppose moving on is always an option if you simply can’t feel healthy or safe in that environment.
Thanks James. I’m with you. There’s an important place in organizations for rigid people. They are so powerful that when they get in the wrong place they do as much damage as they do good when they are in the right.
I think it’s harder when the rigid person is over you and you are the person who loves to try new things. Glad you see yourself and get into situations where you maximize your strength.
Wonderful dialog James and Dan. Rigid folk do indeed bring stability that adheres to deadlines, ensures compliance when needed, take note of short term goals that fuel long term goals. They can also be stagnating and on rails such that innovation can be entirely off their radar. It’s a fine line to walk with them, but I will admit, they are a necessary evil.
People can change they just have to figure out how or move on? What is best for the company and teams depends on the Leadership. Streams and rivers can be contained but soon they can become raging torrents, and unmanageable! We manage bodies of water the best we can and still loose control. The same can be said about rigid Leaders, sometimes you just have to go with the flow and ride the wave and go with them not against knowing tomorrow could be different. If time and time again nothing changes challenge them to see a broader horizon.
Thanks Tim. You always bring some illustration that helps me think. The tension between flexible and inflexible is about control.
Just go with the flow if you cannot change your horrible bosses….
Thanks Cool. I wish it was that easy for some of US. Love your spirit.
I think you may end up becoming frustrated and unproductive…..
I guess you’re right but sometimes it depends on your workplace.
I love rigid structure on certain legal procedures, like drug and alcohol screening where a screw up costs legal fees. Good post, Dan.
Thanks Peggy. Bingo! There are many places where rigid is better than flexible. Glad you joined in.
I came across this concept about twenty years ago while leading a seminar on clear communication. One of the exercises did not go the way I expected and after pondering the results, I realized that there are two “types” of people. There are conceptuals (able to grasp new ideas easily) and literals (rigid inflexibles). Most folks are a mixture of the two extremes, and both elements are important and valuable to an organization. Literals resist change, but tend to be very clear (if blunt) communicators and have a very strong (if inflexible) moral compass. Being able to recognize and work with the two personality types is important. You have listed some excellent ways to do just that. Thanks, Dan.
Thanks Steven. I’m glad you added your perspective to this conversation.
Someone jokingly said, There are two types of people in the world. Those who put people in categories and those who don’t. 🙂 Seriously, your insights are helpful and expend the conversation.
“Frustration with someone seldom changes them for the better.” Pure gold, right here.
I appreciate three to one rule- say at least three positive for one negative. Inflexible bosses do not want to take suggestions. They need appreciation for their work. They are also not ready to accept what they do not have. They are fearful, that is why those who help them, get benefited. They like people who suggest them, appreciate their effort and provide them psychological safety. Those who questions are threat to them. They do not like such people. So, the key is to provide them feeling of safety.
The strength of rigid inflexibility is predictability- people can predict the future of the people and organisation as long as bosses remain in the system. They will impede the growth. For them, it is strength, but for ambitious people, it is the weaknesses.
The best way to deal with such inflexibility is to help, gain trust and initiate change. As suggested by you, people need to help the bosses and win their trust. When they feel, you are not threat to them, convince them for change. It is equally important to take responsibility on behalf of them. They you can start change and win their inflexible attitudes and mind sets.
So true! you only change yourself, not someone else!
Yeah. That was my problem. My last boss was – is – a rigid inflexible, and I virtually told him to eff off! My bad, I think. That was career limiting behaviour!
I think this applies to rigid inflexible employees too. They definitely have value in that they respect and follow rules and will work tirelessly to do the right thing. But they sometimes can be a drag on getting things done as quickly as we might like, because, as you noted, every conversation has to be framed as to not offend them and also make them feel like their concerns are being heard. But if you take the time to do this, then they will work their tail off for you to accomplish the desired change.
Inflexible people bring with them rigidity. There are times when such attitude borders on ridiculous situations. But as you rightly observed, it is better to reach out to them and ensure that they deliver with utmost sincerity and abiding by the rules .
3 to 1 rule – I like a lot!
Thinking in a positive way – let me do the same!
Remember me – consider: beautiful gifts also inside me.
Life is completely founded on forces of consciousness
– on correspondence and analogy and is expressed in symbols.
So something should not degenerate, one must experience – turn to new
– turn to different – or related fields – research – find out!
The only constant is change.
This shows how important it is to train them to change again and again
his gaze angle.
Clarify your vision before you begin to act.
Explain your mind, purify your heart, sanctify your life 😉
– this is the quickest way to change your world.
In this way, it is useful to integrate a possible smallest details life experience
in the immediate investigations, and to bring the relevant connections
between the universa l and the particular, to light.
Don´t focus to much on thing you get triggerd – involve your own shadow-forces
– focus on the light – get strong – don´t be afraid of waisting time.
In this way, the doors open towards to life … and knowledge (root causes).
“Everything is very good” … follow your heart … share joy …Beate
Seeds – Behind all processes there is consciousness
and thereby a creative ability and a creator. 😉
For you sub-heading, “7 ways to deal with inflexible bosses” I added “and colleagues”. This does 2 things for me: 1) it has the potential to put the “boss” in a different light (as colleague) and, 2) since it seems to me that all 7 things apply across the board, it acknowledges that. All the best!
Good as always.
Often I find the rigid inflexible person first needs to be understood. Why are you taking that stance? If you dig deep enough, you uncover something that can lead you to not only understand but actually influence and ultimately change the person to a more flexible position.
Unlike many other people, I appreciate rigid and inflexible leaders because I’m like them. Without them, troublemakers would run amok.
Some would classify me as a rigid inflexible. I’m only this way with my job. Some things are flexible but most isn’t. I supervise operations and logistics. My world is both the center and support of the organization because I handle two aspects the organization was built around. We provide support that gets everyone else what they need so they can keep doing their jobs and meet their deadlines.
My previous supervisor tried to explain this to others for years before he retired. Even I didn’t fully understand until I was sitting in his seat, but I do now. Just like with him, some people are intimidated by me because of the job. It’s a very stressful job and the pacing never lets up.
Before you judge someone’s rigidity, try to determine if it’s the person or the job and embrace what they bring to the table. Rigidness comes with the territory for some jobs and mine is exactly that. And it’s a hard job. What I’m thinking of doing is sitting my employees down and explaining this just so they can get some perspective. I hate being “Satan” just because my job pigeonholes me into it but I guess someone has to do it. This judgement sucks for sure. On the plus side, this position puts a person in a favorable stance for upward mobility when it’s time to move on and up because the knowledge gained is massive. One becomes a SME rather quickly.