How to work with an inflexible vs flexible person

Inflexible vs. Adaptable Personality Traits

In the workplace, people tend to fall along a spectrum between inflexible and adaptable personality traits. These affect how employees work together, process change, and perform. We’re going to explore these personality traits to give you insight that will help you manage your team more effectively and make smarter hiring decisions.

Of course, these traits are only part of an employee’s personality. For a bigger picture, make sure you consider inflexibility or adaptability in light of each employee’s overall personality type (A, B, C, and D in our tests) and their other traits. (You’ll find a list of all the character trait descriptions here.)

What is an inflexible employee?

Someone with an inflexible personality at work has a hard time adjusting to changes they don’t like, tends to reject ideas that go against their own preferences, and prefers to maintain their own way of doing things. They tend to be close-minded and are often rigid about their approach to tasks or projects.

What are the characteristics of an inflexible employee?

Inflexibility in the workplace generally falls along a wide spectrum. It varies from person to person, but here are some signs that an employee tends to be inflexible:

  • They resist change, especially of rules and procedures, and are the last people to start complying.
  • They would prefer to “win” rather than compromise.
  • They’re not as open to new ideas or approaches.
  • If they think someone is threatening their preferred way of working, they can become very defensive.
  • In the extreme, they may have a “my way or the highway” attitude.

How to work with someone with inflexible personality traits

Employers can sometimes become frustrated with an inflexible employee’s reluctance to go with the flow. However, there are plenty of strategies for creating a successful working relationship with people who tend to be inflexible.

How to train an inflexible employee
  • Inflexible employees value rules and procedures and don’t like changes. You may have a hard time getting their buy-in on changes or during training sessions. Make sure you listen to their concerns, but be clear when change is coming and they need to get on board.
  • When training a new employee with an inflexible personality, try to point out which rules and procedures tend to be long-standing and which ones may change more frequently. For example, it’s a good thing to have someone who is inflexible about always following safety rules or complying with legal guidelines. But if your office is trying out a new software program, for example, mention that it’s still a trial and may change. This will at least help the person prepare for possible changes down the road.
How to motivate someone who is inflexible
  • Use your inflexible employees’ personality traits to the team’s advantage. If there are standards or processes you don’t want to compromise on, an inflexible person is often a good choice to “own” those areas.
  • Take change seriously and acknowledge its impact on your team. Inflexible people often struggle when established rules and procedures change, so make it clear you’re not making changes at random (and be sure you really have thought these changes through).
How to give feedback to a person with an inflexible personality

Inflexible people are often drawn to concrete standards. Clearly define expectations up front so that you can point to those when you’re giving praise and criticism.

  • Give inflexible employees time to process feedback. They may tend to have a knee-jerk reaction of rejecting feedback that doesn’t fit in with their own viewpoint, so give them time to reflect on it before asking for a response.
  • Sometimes, employees with an inflexible personality will need to be adaptable (and vice versa). If an inflexible employee is taking too long to get on board with changes, make it clear when those changes are a non-negotiable part of the rule. It’s unhelpful to continue letting an inflexible employee insulate themselves against all changes.

What is the opposite of being inflexible?

On the other end of the flexibility spectrum, some people tend to be much more adaptable in the workplace.

What is an adaptable employee?

People who are adaptable in the workplace will be much more open-minded about changes and other people’s viewpoints. They tend to prize team harmony above rigidly following rules or advancing their own opinions. These people tend to come across as easy-going and likeable.

What are the characteristics of an adaptable employee?

Here are a few signs that an adaptable employee:

  • In meetings, adaptable people listen to other perspectives and are open to changing their own opinions.
  • They’re willing to give change a chance, even if they’re skeptical.
  • They work well with others and tend to be more collaborative.
  • They’re open to hearing and incorporating feedback.

How to work with someone with adaptable personality traits

Adaptable people are often easy to work with and open to being managed. Understanding their strengths and weaknesses will help you put their skills to good use for your team.

How to train an adaptable employee
  • Enjoy your adaptable employee’s openness to learning, training, and growing. Offer opportunities for continuing education.
  • Adaptable personalities can still be discouraged if other team members aren’t on board. Make sure your adaptable employees aren’t getting too far ahead of inflexible employees when it comes to training on new skills and processes.
How to motivate someone who is adaptable
  • Adaptable personalities value harmony in the workplace and may feel like their perspective is lost if inflexible or combative people are in the mix. Make sure they have opportunities to collaborate with other adaptable people, too.
  • In one-on-one sessions with adaptable employees, ask about their goals and ideas. They’ll appreciate feeling heard, even if they’re not the most forceful person in group meetings.
How to give feedback to someone with an adaptable personality
  • Because of their tendency to collaborate well with others and incorporate other viewpoints, the accomplishments of adaptable people can sometimes get lost. Recognize their individual contributions as well as their role in groups.
  • In the extreme, adaptable personalities may neglect to advance their own viewpoints. You may need to coach them to speak up or stand firm on ideas they believe in.

What makes for a better worker: an inflexible vs. adaptable personality?

Inflexible and adaptable workers have different strengths and weaknesses. If you’re hiring, you’ll want to pay attention to the needs of the position. Does the role require a strong personality to forge ahead without compromising? Is it a technically demanding role with a lot of independent work? Or will the role require a lot of collaboration and teamwork? Will the employee need to keep up with changes?

Considering these questions, as well as the person’s overall personality and the degree of their inflexibility or adaptability personality traits, will help you manage better and hire smarter.

Hire Success can give you insight into both your current employees and applicants you’re considering. We help you understand how different personality traits interact, pinpoint the traits that help your current employees succeed, and suggest smarter interview questions based on the data.

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