Tips for High-Impact Teamwork: Various Ways to Persuade

Tyler Reimschisel, Associate Provost for Interprofessional Education, Research and Collaborative Practice

By Tyler Reimschisel, MD

In my last two “Tips for High-Impact Teamwork” articles, I discussed the personal characteristics of individuals that help make teams effective and the personal attributes that can lead to team dysfunction. Writing about personal traits that have the potential to lead to team dysfunction reminded me of the challenges a team can face when one or more of its members are unwilling to agree to a decision that most of the team wants to pursue. Last year in a Harvard Business Review article, Adam Grant reviewed the various approaches to individuals who are hard to persuade. In today’s article, I will summarize his discussion, and I encourage you to read the full article.

Frequently within our teams, there are differences of opinion on how to address a problem, resolve a conflict, complete a project, care for a patient, or approach another challenge within the team. In these situations, it is helpful to have some skill in approaching the one or two individuals who are hard to persuade when the rest of the team agrees. In Grant’s article, he uses published research and his personal expertise as an organizational psychologist to offer suggestions on how to approach four barriers to persuasion: arrogance, stubbornness, narcissism and disagreeableness. 

Before summarizing how one can address each of these barriers in our team members, I want to emphasize a point that he makes at the beginning of the article. He rightly reminds us that personality traits frequently are context-specific. Thus, a team member may only manifest one or more of these barriers in particular situations, and it is important for the team to recognize when one or more team members are manifesting a barrier to discussion. Since these personality traits are not necessarily fixed—and can be influenced by the office ecosystem, cultural context in the work setting or clinical learning environment —I also want to add that any of us can demonstrate one or more of these problematic dispositions in our teamwork. As you read this article, you may think about co-workers or colleagues who frequently show arrogance, stubbornness, narcissism or disagreeableness. You should also consider whether any of your co-workers and colleagues would be thinking about you if they were also reading this article.

Let’s begin our review with addressing arrogance in a colleague or co-worker. Arrogance typically leads to overconfidence in what we think we know and a lack of appreciation of what we do not know. Directly addressing gaps of knowledge in our colleagues will likely just lead to defensiveness. Instead, Grant recommends that you engage in conversation that lets them recognize their own gaps. This can be accomplished by asking them to explain a complex situation or to describe how they would approach a very challenging situation. You should ask genuine questions so you can learn from them. Since they are addressing complicated and complex scenarios, very quickly they will probably come up against areas where they are uncertain, unsure, or lack confidence. By letting them get to those areas on their own they should be more willing to let others step in and offer their perspective, input, suggestions and advice. In my experience, this is a much more effective way of engaging with someone who is arrogant and conceited than trying to argue with them. This approach may take more time, but it is much more likely to lead to agreement. 

Stubbornness is the second personality trait that can lead to challenges in collaborative decision-making within a team. Stubbornness occurs when individuals make up their minds, etch their decisions in stone and refuse to change their minds. As Grant points out, “…their views become more pliable if you hand them a chisel.” In other words, it can be more effective to ask open-ended questions than to tell them what to think or believe. They maintain a level of control over the conversation if they are answering your questions, and this gives them a way to influence the course of the discussion and the ultimate decisions that the team makes. Although this may sound similar to the use of questions with those who are being arrogant, the purpose of the questioning is different. When someone is overly confident, the questions are meant to show them they are not as knowledgeable or as enlightened as they think they are. On the other hand, when someone is being stubborn, the purpose of the questions is to engage them in the creative process of modifying the plan, revising the project, or generating a new approach. Hopefully, their stubbornness will soften and their defensiveness will decrease as they realize they have influence over the process and outcome. 

The next personality trait that Grant considers is narcissism. Narcissism is one of the most challenging personal attributes to address within a team, and at its most severe could be a manifestation of a personality disorder. Addressing narcissistic personality disorders is well beyond the scope of this short article, and we will confine our discussion to those who feel that they are superior, special, and nearly infallible without necessarily having a formal personality disorder. As Grant points out, narcissists have high but unstable self-esteem. To most effectively engage with them if they are hard to persuade, it is advisable to use a balanced approach. On the one hand, you should acknowledge their strengths and assets. You can compliment them on their achievements, affirm your respect for them (if it is genuine) and offer other words of appreciation. Then, on the other hand, you can offer your perspective about why you think their current viewpoint, decision, or approach is lacking. It is important to emphasize that you should praise them in an area that is different from the one where you disagree with them or want to change their minds. So, if you need to address someone’s communication skills, do not compliment those skills. Instead, you can compliment their leadership intuition, creativity, tenacity, or another area unrelated to their communication skills. 

I really like how Grant points out that all of us have “multiple identities” or multiple personality traits, including a tendency towards unmerited self-confidence that has elements of narcissism. He writes, “…when we feel secure about one of our strengths, we become more open to accepting our shortcomings elsewhere.” I think this is very insightful and evidence-based. It is probably good advice for how we reflect on our own performance, too. Instead of focusing just on our shortcomings, mistakes, and errors, let’s also spend time celebrating our strengths, assets and contributions. 

The final potential barrier to collaboration and persuasion is disagreeableness or argumentativeness. Sometimes an individual in our team is in the mood to argue for the sake of winning the argument. Unlike the other traits discussed above, it is important to recognize that their argumentation is frequently a sign of perseverance, commitment and passion for their viewpoint or desire. In these situations, the argument may energize the disagreeable person, and that energy could be productive and lead to further engagement if it is appropriately managed. In these situations, engaging in the argument could actually be a way to tap into their passion, garner their respect and leverage their support. Having said that, I recommend engaging in debate in a way that aligns with the mutual learning approach, deconstructive feedback and civil discourse. Unfortunately, it is exceedingly rare in our society today to have productive arguments and debates. Yet I still believe a debate focused on the issues and not each other can be productive if it is conducted with respect and compassion for each other. Lacking those foundational elements, argumentation too often degenerates into one-upmanship, ad hominem attacks, shaming and an exacerbation of team dysfunction. 

I hope these insights are helpful as you try to persuade your teammates while also reflecting on ways that you may not always be as persuadable as you should be. If you have experience with any of these approaches or would like to share ways that you are successful in persuading others, I would love to hear from you at 


Bennett RJ and Robinson SL. Development of a measure of workplace deviance. Journal of Applied Psychology 2000;85(3): 349-360.

Grant A. Persuading the Unpersuadable. Harvard Business Review. March-April, 2021.