Dealing With an Employee Who is Set in Their Ways

In a few months, my parents are throwing themselves a 60th wedding anniversary party - woohoo! My dad, who doesn’t understand technology so well, asked me to send out the invitations via email.

“Sure dad,” I said, “can you send me the list of emails?”

It took him some time to gather the emails, but once he had them he called me to let me know.

“Avish, I am going to the post office to send you the email list.”

“Wait, what? Can you just email me the list?”

“I don’t know. I tried to scan before but then I couldn’t find where the scan went. So I just made a copy and will send it to you.”

So I could data enter them. 

For email addresses. 

“Okay dad, just send it to me and I will take care of it.”

I love my parents very much but it has always been amazing how resistant they are about technology. While all of their friends and family of their generation have embraced various aspects of computers, phones, tablets, etc., they have resisted. Over the years I have tried to get them to learn and move forward, but to no avail.

They are set in their ways.

It’s not a big deal for me. Once or twice a year I have to deal with small things like manually entering emails or ordering things online for them because they are not great at it.

But if you have an employee (or multiple employees) who are set in their ways, this can be a headache for you and a sizable issue for your team or organization.

Fortunately, “yes, and” can help!

This is one of the most common issues I hear about in both companies and associations when I do my prep call before a keynote: “We have a lot of people who are set in their ways…” If this is an issue you’d like my help addressing, I would love to chat and see how I could help.

I created the video below delving into this topic with some actions you can take to deal with an employee who is set in their ways.

If you prefer reading over watching, there's a transcript below the video.


Are you a leader and you're trying to lead your team, department, or organization through some change? Maybe you're trying to initiate a change because you wanna stay competitive in this constantly changing and global environment, or maybe some external change that you are being forced to deal with, and you have to navigate that with your people. And yet, you may have some employees there who have been there a long time and are very set in their ways and just resisting.

Well, if so, this video is for you. Hi, I'm Avish Parashar.

I am a professional speaker. And for 30 years, I performed improv comedy and for the last 20 plus, I've been using improv as a tool to help individuals and organizations be more innovative and creative, communicate more effectively, and, yes, get out of their own way, get unstuck from their own ways, and say yes and to embracing change. And I see this all the time in my work as a speaker. Whenever I speak beforehand, I will have a call with my client, and maybe a few other people who really know the industry and the group, and we'll talk about challenges. And in almost every one of the calls, they will say, well, we have some people who've been here a long time, been in our company a long time, been in our association a long time, and they're very stuck in their ways. So anytime we try to come up with a new idea or broach a new way of doing things, they get very, very resistant. And this is very common simply because people don't like change.

And the longer you've been doing things a certain way, the more of a habit and routine you have, the less willing you are to accept change, the more set in your ways you become. I've seen this before in a variety of ways, a variety of the clients I've been called into. It could be technology that the organization is moving to, like, paperless or more cloud based, and people like, I like doing things the old way, so they're not willing to embrace it. It could be just simply new systems and routines. Like, you've got a company that's growing, so they need to change things. But you've got the employees that have been there from back when it was a very small company. And they're like, listen.

I've been here a long time. This is not the way we do things, so they are resisting. It could also be maybe you are a leader who's new to this team, and you are trying to really bring your experience and ways of doing things that you know will make things better for everyone, the company and the employees, but they've been there a long time. And they're like, nope. This is not the way some new person's gonna come here and tell me what to do. Whatever the specific changes, you as a leader need them or want them to change, and you've got these people that are set in their ways, and that can be exhausting. Now let me let you in on the secret as to why you're struggling so much.

It's because you are probably smart, logical, and reasonable, which means you are approaching trying to get them to change by using your intelligence, reason, and logic. But I think you'd agree that people are often not smart, logical, and reasonable. Right? They're often irrational, emotional, confounding decision makers. And the more you throw logic and reason at them, the more they're simply going to resist. Right? Resisting change, being set in your ways, these are emotional responses.

These aren't logical reasonable responses. And so when you approach it by trying to address the logic and the reason, you're gonna fail because all the logic and the reason in the world will not get them to shift at an emotional level. In fact, logic and reason is just gonna make them dig their heels in even more so you're working contrary to the purpose you're trying to achieve. This is why in my speaking programs, I talk about the importance of thinking not just informationally with all that great logic and reason and information, but also improvisationally. There are ways you approach improv comedy with a thought process that is different than the standard logic and reason you might use. This is why it is so hard for some people to perform improv comedy because they're used to thinking in a certain way with logic and reason around everything and to be successful in improv, you need to actually let go a lot of that and be more in the moment, creative, use emotion and move forward that way. And when you can bring the same improvisational yes and thinking mindset in your communication with people, especially those who are set in their ways, it's gonna help you break down those barriers and get them moving forward and embracing the change you need them to embrace.

Now this is not a magic wand. You're not gonna do this once and suddenly everyone's gonna be on board. But even those people that you in your mind are thinking, they are going to never agree to this. It's gonna start moving the ball forward even for them, even if you're busy, and even if you're kind of at your wits end about this. Here's 3 ways you can start doing this, and they all come from my work applying improv to business and life and specifically around the idea of using yes and instead of yes but. If you want more information on that, be sure to move visit my website and watch one of my videos where I talk about what yes and is and isn't and how you can use it. Number 1, you have to approach the employee who set in their ways in a way that doesn't trigger their defensiveness.

This is a big piece of it. The that yes, but set in their ways response is a triggering response. It's an emotional response, and it's often based in defensiveness. And so the minute you approach them with your own yes, buts, when they give some objection to the change you're you're proposing, and you respond with a yes, but, it's gonna trigger their defensiveness, and they're gonna come back with you with a yes, but, which is going to make them dig their heels in more. This is why in my keynotes and programs, we talk so much about defaulting with a yes, and. When you get that response from a set in their ways employee, don't come back with your logic. Don't come back with your own yes, but.

You need to respond to them with a yes, and. Your goal here is to create a sense of connection, empathy, and understanding. So respond with a yes and. Acknowledge what they're saying as their objection. Even if in your mind, your initial thought is that is dumb or it doesn't matter because we have to change anyways, start by understanding them. Yeah. And tell me more about that.

Yes, and why are you feeling that way? Yes, and how do you see this working? Right. You're giving them a platform. You're letting them voice their opinion. Now, if they've been there a long time and you're new to that group or team, one of the biggest underlying things they have is that they're gonna feel like you're this newbie coming in and they've got all the institutional experience and knowledge. So by saying yes and, you're acknowledging that. Right? You're you're almost playing to their ego a little bit.

Now this is not just lip service. You gotta really be there and listen to it, but this is a great way to kind of undermine that defensiveness. Right? To undercut it, you don't trigger their defensive response. You get them talking. You get them engaging and connecting. Number 2, you need to understand and address their feelings before you jump to logic and reason. Now I know this might sound unpopular because I feel like if you're like me, I'm 50 now at the time of this recording, and I have for years in business heard the message that emotions don't matter.

Feelings don't matter. Doesn't matter how you feel, just do the work. And so you might feel that way. You might be carrying that in with you to these interactions. So if you've got an employee set in their ways, they're gonna be feeling uncertain or afraid or overwhelmed. And that's one of the reasons they're digging their heels in and being set in their ways. Now what you wanna say to them, what you feel you wanna say to them is your feelings don't matter.

I don't care if you don't want this change. I don't care how you feel about it. You gotta just do it because I'm the boss. This is what the organization demands. This is how things are. Who cares about your feelings? Now that may be a nice sort of idea to have in your head, but in the real world, feelings do matter.

And if you really care about getting these people on your side and resist changing the resistance they have, you gotta address their feelings. This is why one of the big points in my keynotes is about understanding emotions. Right? I do this improv game where I show how how you feel drives your content. And there's an improv game called emotional list where every time, you're going in a scene and periodically someone will call out an emotion, and you have to immediately take on that emotion, and it is amazing how that drives the direction of the scene. And then this becomes very instructive about how how we feel drives what we think and what we say and what we do. So if you want the people to change what they say, what they think, and what they do, you need to address their underlying emotion.

Now, you can't do this by saying, oh, I can see you're feeling very afraid. That's gonna make them dig their heels in. This takes more, finesse and nuance. But this is where you use yes and. Right? By digging deeper into their feelings about the change, ask them, what are you thinking about this change? How do you see this working?

What are your concerns? You dig deeper. And so then you could figure out what where is this feeling coming from? Why are they afraid? Why are they uncertain? And then start addressing that. And, yeah, at some point, you need to say yes, but or to kind of counter them.

But a lot of it is timing. And by starting with a yes and and digging deeper, you may be able to uncover what's that real thing they're worried about or afraid about or stressed about. And then by addressing that issue like, oh, here is why that won't be a problem. If you do it first, triggers defensive response. If you dig deeper, connect and find out what the emotion is, then they'll be much more receptive to it. Number 3 and this will be the hardest for many people, talk less, listen more. This is very much the yes and versus yes but mindset.

See, as a leader, you probably feel in a lot of ways like you have information, you have answers, and you may wanna provide that information and answers to people because you're helping. It's your job and you wanna help them. So when someone has a question or concern about how things will go or raise an objection or even has a suggestion about something, you might feel the urge to say, yeah, but let me share with you my experience and my information of what I know. And you'll think you're helping. You think you're being efficient because you're like, why should we bother talking about what you're talking about if you're wrong? The problem with that is that's gonna trigger that defensive response. You're setting the way employee will be even more set in their ways.

This is why you are much better off asking their questions, getting their input, and then just being quiet. Because when they respond, you're gonna have a little trigger in your mind where you're gonna wanna respond to what they say. And if you can control that, if you can just keep your mouth shut and listen, so often the person will talk themselves out. They will talk. They will share their feelings. They will eventually get to a point where they're saying, yeah. Okay. Fine. I see what you're saying.

Now you may not even say anything, but if you let them talk see, here's the thing. Most people, you know, I said they're not logical and reasonable. They're not logical and reasonable at first. But deep down, even the most set in the way employees, even the most change resistant employees, you know, they understand the real world and reality. And they know that if your whole organization is rolling out a new software system or process that they're going to eventually have to change. If you push it upon them, they'll resist. If you just ask them a question about it and let them talk, they might eventually get to a point be like, look, I know that we need to do this change.

I'm just concerned. Now if throughout their talking at any point you interrupt them or even jump in when they pause and say, yeah, but here's why you're wrong. It's gonna start the whole cycle over again. So this is it's an interesting idea from the world of improv, and I talk about this in some of my workshops. It's this idea of just being present and in the moment and keeping your mind shut and just almost being an empty receptacle for what they're saying. Now eventually, they're gonna ask you a question or they're gonna stop and pause, not whether pausing and still thinking, but pausing and then turning it over to you as your turn. Then sure, you can speak, And if you can ask a follow-up question, that's even better.

But the less you talk and the more you listen, the greater rapport you're gonna build, the more you're gonna lower that chain resistance even to the most set in their ways employee. So those are 3 ways you can start using the improv idea of yes and to start lowering resistance, getting those set in their ways employees to start embracing the change that you know is gonna be so important, so useful, and so valuable. There's no magic wand but if you start using it right away, you'll see some progress happen. And if you found this information helpful and valuable, please subscribe and give me a like. And if you are trying to lead your team through a change and you want your other leaders to be more effective in addressing the employees who are set in their ways or if you want someone to come in and talk to your employees, even the ones who are set in their ways and use some of these techniques to help lower that resistance in that direction, please reach out to me. You can visit my website or just contact me directly. Thanks for watching and I hopefully, I hear from you soon.

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