Rigid people are people with inflexible thoughts and behavior patterns. Being rigid in one’s thinking is the very opposite of being open-minded.
Rigid people are resistant to new ideas, ways of being, and ways of behaving. As a result, they learn little and they grow little. They have a fixed mindset versus a growth mindset.
People may be rigid because it’s part of their personality or they may be rigid in some life areas while being more flexible in other areas. In this article, we discuss what causes rigidity in people and how to deal with rigid people.
What causes rigidity?
People can have rigid thoughts and display rigid behaviors for several reasons. Generally, people are rigid because being rigid serves them in some way. Common reasons behind being inflexible are:
1. Lack of conviction
People hold on to what they know or their ways of behaving when they’re unconvinced that change can help them. This sounds obvious, but it’s a useful reminder that we might be too quick to label someone as rigid.
We should first look at ourselves and make sure we are doing a good job of trying to convince them to change their ways.
It’s easy to label others as rigid when in reality we’re the ones who lack convincing skills. If you’re going to sell a new idea to someone, you have to do your own homework first. You have to level up your convincing skills.
2. Protecting beliefs and habits
Humans are creatures of habit. Once they form a belief or develop a habit, they just roll with it. They get comfortable with their thoughts and habits. They feel secure in these familiar patterns.
A novel idea feels unsafe, unfamiliar, and uncomfortable. Through confirmation bias, people maintain their existing ideas and reject new, especially opposing ideas. Through cognitive dissonance, they try to resolve the discomfort caused by new ideas.
3. Need for closure
This is closely related to the previous reason. People have a strong need for closure, meaning, they want matters to be settled as soon as possible. They hate ambiguity. They want to stick to their ‘settled’ ideas about something.
They don’t want to re-open questioning and debate. Having to reconsider things takes considerable mental energy and many people are too cognitively lazy to expend that energy.
The need for closure often leads to ineffective problem-solving and jumping to conclusions. Closed-minded people have an especially powerful need for closure. They don’t want to re-open old files in the cabinet of their mind, even if they have a good reason to do so.
4. Need for control
When we believe we’ve figured out aspects of the world (attained closure), we feel in control. Admitting our knowledge might be lacking throws things back into chaos. Those who constantly evolve consistently go through periods of order and chaos.
Rigid people want to cling to their order and fear chaos, even if that chaos has the potential to bring a better future order.
5. Avoiding pain
An important reason people are rigidly attached to their beliefs and ideas is that they identify with them. As a result, losing their beliefs means losing their identity. An identity crisis is not a pleasant experience to go through.
When people identify with their beliefs, they derive pride from them. Losing these beliefs not only means losing their identity but also losing important sources of pride and ego gratification.
All this, combined with the fear of being wrong or looking stupid, makes people rigidly attached to their ideas. Admitting you’re wrong is painful, especially for those who identify with their ideas. They have an emotional investment in their ideas.
How to deal with rigid people
Changing a rigid person’s mind is not an easy task. It can sometimes take a lot of time and energy. So before you decide to deal with a rigid person, make sure doing so is going to be worth your while. Otherwise, just let it slide. In most cases, it’s just not worth it.
Still, following are the strategies you can use to make people less rigid:
- Express your ideas clearly and convincingly
- Involve them in your idea
- Frame your idea as a possibility
- Use authority and social proof
- Communicate your idea assertively
- Show them the mirror
1. Express your ideas clearly and convincingly
Vague and poorly expressed ideas cannot change people’s minds. A well-expressed idea registers well in the other person’s mind. When that happens, they may not resist it as much because it makes sense to them.
You can also state your ideas repeatedly so they become familiar to your target person. Once familiarity sets in, so does comfort. Now, the new idea isn’t this unknown devil they need to immediately destroy. They can give it a shot.
2. Involve them in your idea
Another trick is to involve them in your idea. The major reason they’re fighting the idea maybe because it’s your idea. Instead of presenting the idea as your idea, lead them to it. Make them think they played a part in coming up with the idea.
For example, instead of saying something like, “I suggest we hire a sales team” to your rigid boss, you can say:
“Our sales numbers have the potential to get better.”
The boss will probably ask you how. Then you can suggest hiring a sales team.
Your idea might have been brilliant. But framing it as your idea might have led to resistance. By involving your boss in the idea, you decrease the chances of resistance. They feel they helped you come up with the idea and it’s hard to resist one’s own ideas.
3. Frame your idea as a possibility
Rigid people are sure of their own ideas. When you’re sure of your ideas too, you too become rigid. When rigid ideas collide, they create a lot of friction.
You have to be sure of your idea, of course, but sometimes you need to communicate it gently to reduce friction.
One way to do this is to talk about your idea as a possibility. Again, you remove yourself from your idea such that it’s no longer your idea but a rational possibility.
For example, when a rigid person says something you don’t agree with, you can say:
“I think it’s also possible that [state your idea].”
“Don’t you think it’s possible that [state your idea]?’
When people are fighting your ideas, often they’re fighting you. When you remove yourself from your idea, you decrease resistance because it’s lame to fight a mere idea, a possibility.
4. Use authority and social proof
Authority and social proof are powerful convincing tools. Marketers use them all the time. Find people your target person respects, and try to convince them instead. We tend to agree with those we admire and respect.
Get as much buy-in for your idea from others as you can. For instance, if the entire office agrees with your idea except your boss, that’d make your boss look unreasonable for being so rigid.
5. Communicate your idea assertively
Assertiveness is an important communication skill. When you find that someone is being too rigid and stubborn with their ways, you can do one of the following depending on the situation: (see Assertiveness vs Aggression for more details)
- Be passive (Do nothing)
While it may be the best strategy at times, often when you do nothing, nothing changes.
- Be aggressive
If you criticize their idea or push your idea aggressively, you’re bound to face resistance. This strategy rarely works and often leads to a power struggle that sours the relationship.
- Be assertive
It’s the sweet spot between passivity and aggression. You communicate your idea or disagreement without a tinge of aggression. When there’s no aggression, the other person has no reason to defend. When they’ve no reason to defend, they’re less likely to resist your idea.
Ideas communicated assertively settle in their minds as they face no resistance. When you keep communicating your ideas assertively, they’ll gather a momentum of their own in your target person’s mind. Having no reason to defend, they’ll find themselves forced to consider your ideas.
6. Show them the mirror
This one is more likely to work with intelligent and self-reflective people. You basically point out the flaws in their logic and expose their biases. You appeal to their rationality.
This way, you’re not attacking their idea- their oh-so-precious idea. Instead, you’re criticizing the way they’ve reasoned to come up with that idea.
When you criticize someone’s idea directly, you’re communicating:
“Your idea is crap. Therefore, you’re crap.”
When you criticize their reasoning, you’re communicating:
“The way you’ve reasoned is crap. You can do better. You can be more rational.”
The key is not to make them look stupid for being irrational. Don’t use any insults or labels.
To force them into self-reflection, you can also ask them something like:
“Why are you being so rigid?”
Extreme circumstances sometimes demand extreme measures. Aggression, for example, can sometimes be effective in breaking the rigidity of people.
Be warned: It’s a risky strategy that may only work on open-minded people who’re being uncharacteristically rigid. They can handle criticism well.
Basically, you insult or mock their ideas. You can even show anger and yell at them if you want to. You can also use satire and biting sarcasm.
This extreme aggression strategy aims to shock and completely disarm the other person. Moderate aggression is faced with moderate aggression but few can handle extreme aggression.
They’re forced to see the error in their ways. They cannot defend themselves because the attack is so strong.
Hi, I’m Hanan Parvez (MBA, MA Psychology), founder and author of PsychMechanics. PsychMechanics has been featured in Forbes, Business Insider, Reader’s Digest, and Entrepreneur. Feel free to contact me if you have a query.