Have you ever been in a conversation with someone extremely stubborn and the longer it went on, the more they dug their heels in and refused to change their minds? No matter how much evidence that you had to back up what you were saying or how logical it was, the stubborn person refused to give an inch. People who are bullheaded like this often win an argument just because they tire their opponents out.
The sheer will and tenacity of stubborn people are admirable, but those qualities can also make dealing with these obstinate folks frustrating and exhausting. It can get to the point where you just give up and try to avoid ever getting into any kind of stalemate with them again.
Avoidance is a tip for how to deal with stubborn people, especially if you don’t care for them, but that’s not always an option. If you’re working on a project with a stubborn person, you may not have the luxury of ignoring them, or if your romantic partner is the stubborn one, refusing to speak to them can hurt your dynamic.
I have some stubborn aspects to my personality, but I’m also someone who hates unnecessary conflict, and I’m able to see things from other people’s points of view. I can compromise and that’s something that’s really difficult for the majorly stubborn person.
Stubbornness can be a trait that one is born with, or it could be something that developed as a coping mechanism. When you’re stubborn, usually it’s just one of many personality characteristics. “Stubborn people may represent a mishmash of qualities—hard-headedness, stonewalling, coldness, controlling, inflexibility, unwillingness to compromise, rigidity,” says Dr. Ramani (Durvasula). “It all comes down to the other ingredients the person has—if a stubborn person lacks empathy or is entitled—you are going to have a MUCH bigger battle to fight than if they are an insightful stubborn person (e.g. they own their stubbornness, and may even be able to laugh a little about it).”
Interacting with someone who is stubborn and staying level-headed can be tricky. You don’t want the situation to escalate and turn into something toxic, but on the other hand, you want to be able to express your opinions and ideas in a safe environment. Here’s how to deal with stubborn people.
How to Deal With Stubborn People
Take a moment
Pausing is a great tip for how to deal with stubborn people. Don’t go right into a battle with a stubborn person. You may be feeling angry, frustrated, and tired, so take a moment and breathe. Consider if you really need to have a discussion about this issue or if it would be better just to let it go. Whatever you decide, taking the time to relax and regroup will help contain the situation so that it doesn’t intensify in a destructive and harmful way.
Do things on their timetable
You probably won’t make much headway if you engage with a stubborn person when emotions are high. “When you’re dealing with a stubborn person, timing is everything,” says Adina Mahalli (MSW) of Enlightened Reality. “If you want to be heard, you need to first make sure that they’re in the mood to listen. More often than not, if you catch a stubborn person at the wrong time, you end up talking to a brick wall.”
Talk to them
Speaking to them in a calm rational way is how to deal with stubborn people. Don’t lecture or talk down to them for that is insulting. Treat them with respect as you would like them to treat you. If your partner is being stubborn, you can’t bottle up your feelings—those feelings will eventually come out, usually at an unexpected and inappropriate time. Dating/relationship expert Celia Schweyer suggests having a face-to-face conversation. “Sit them down and maintain eye contact to make sure you get your point across. Be firm and keep the volume of your voice steady,” she advises. “The best way to convince a stubborn partner is by being direct and talking to them in a very firm but respectful manner.”
Break down the issue
Making sure you’re on the same page is a great tip for how to deal with stubborn people. Conversations can get confusing, especially if emotions are involved. In addition, some topics need to be broken down so they are easier to digest. “Break it down into bite sizes, those who are stubborn can suffer from hearing loss when they aren’t hearing something that matches their thoughts and views,” says Mike Sheety, director of Thatshirt.com. “You have to break it down into sizable bites that are easier to consume.”
If you lose your temper or get too emotional it can make things even worse. “The first rule of dealing with a stubborn personality is practicing your own patience,” say Mahalli. “Display an open attitude and a willingness to hear them out, and hopefully, they’ll return the favor.”
Don’t point out their mistakes
Pointing out mistakes is not how to deal with stubborn people. It can come off as judgmental if you throw it in their face that they’re mistaken or incorrect. Schweyer says, “Avoid telling your partner that he or she is wrong. Instead, tweak your words to convince them that you’re right.” Starting out with something positive about them can help soften their attitude.
You never know what is going on in someone else’s life. If you can, try to put yourself in their shoes. They may be fearful of change or nervous that they’re not seen as worthy or valuable and their stubbornness is their way of protecting themselves. If you deal with them in a compassionate way, there’s a better chance of having a positive outcome.
Stubbornness is sometimes a manifestation of fear. One way to counterbalance that fear is to earn their trust. If you show them consistently that you mean no harm and they can depend on you to be there when they need you, it will improve your communication overall and help them to not always go to a place of stubbornness when they feel too vulnerable. “As stubborn people often are fearful and thus cling to what they know or believe to be true, establish a relationship of trust over time,” says Anahid Lisa Derbabian, MA, LPC, NCC. “Help them to realize when a new idea genuinely may appeal to their sensibilities and to what they find important, reasonable, and of comfort.”
Resist getting into an argument
If a stubborn person isn’t open to hearing what you have to say, then the last thing you want to do is to get into a full-blown argument. Things will only get worse and an argument could lead to a lot of bad blood between you. This is not a win-win, but more of a nobody wins situation. Have a conversation, so that you may begin to form a meeting of the minds, not an epic battle.
Stubbornness and inflexibility seem to go together hand-in-hand. If you’re learning how to deal with stubborn people, you’re going to have to be the flexible one. “No, you don’t have to agree with everything they say to you, “says Schweyer. “Being flexible simply means that you take the time to listen to what they have to say, know where they are coming from, and understand what they are trying to say. If you think that they’re making a fair point, then tell them, and if you don’t, then talk to them about it.”
Know that you can’t change them
Learning how to deal with stubborn people can help with the way you interact together, but if you think you’re going to be the one to do an entire personality overhaul with them, that’s not going to happen. People don’t change just because you want them to. They have to change because it’s something they feel is important. “You cannot ever make someone else change,” says Vikki Louise, life coach. “You cannot make them change their mind, you cannot make them try something new, you cannot make them behave in any way. You are not responsible for anyone but yourself.”
Let them feel as if they’ve won
If the stubborn person feels as if they’ve been heard, they may be able to relax a little. “With the ‘nicer’ stubborn person—you still don’t want to take them head-to-head, that’s not how to deal with stubborn people. But, if you can let them feel like they have won in their pigheaded moment, then a few hours later, they may be ready to hear that perhaps there is a compromise position,” says Dr. Ramani.
Stubborn people aren’t just trying to enrage you or make your life more difficult. They may not even be aware of how their inflexibility affects their relationships. “Stubborn people may unknowingly be immobilized by their resistance to new ideas and change, which limits them significantly,” says Derbabian. “Help them to understand the downsides of a closed mindset in a particular situation, and help them to feel the freedom, possibilities, excitement, and opportunities inherent in a growth mindset, and in taking just one small step in a new direction.”