When to Stop Trying to Get Your Way

“Never try to teach a pig to read,” the saying goes. “It’s a waste of time and it annoys the pig.” But how do you know when you’re at that point?  When does attempting to persuade someone do more harm than good?

“Never try to teach a pig to read,” the saying goes. “It’s a waste of time and it annoys the pig.” But how do you know when you’re at that point?  When does attempting to persuade someone do more harm than good?


Russian President Vladimir Putin recently stated that pressure from the West for him to accommodate their demands regarding Ukraine has only made him more adamant. 

“The so-called ‘victors’ in the Cold War had decided to pressure events and reshape the world to suit their own needs and interests,” Putin said.  “A unilateral diktat and imposing one’s own models produces the opposite result. Instead of settling conflicts it leads to their escalation.”

Putin expects that world power will be divided on a regional basis, reported Forbes correspondent Shellie Karabell.  For Russia to be a major player, Putin believes in the necessity of territorial expansion and developing its relationships with those leaders of power regions who don’t insist that he change Russia’s course. 

No amount of skillful argument is likely to alter Putin’s views.  He understands the thinking of those who seek to influence him.  It isn’t a matter of greater clarification. According to Putin, his course is set in stone because in attempting to impose world domination the U.S. has forced his hand.  In response to Putin’s inflexibility, the West has resorted to sanctions – coercion rather than persuasion.

Does this have any application to your everyday work with people who are dogmatic?  At what point do you determine that persuasion simply won’t work?  When is someone (hopefully not your boss) so intransigent that attempting to seek a compromise is a waste of time?

Usually, there is hope.  If you are sufficiently competent in terms of managing influence, politics and power, even the most closed-minded people can eventually be encouraged to listen and at least consider the possibility of change.

But in those exceptional cases when we are dealing with an inflexible individual, how do we know when it’s time to back off?  At what point is our breath wasted and our efforts better spent in finding another way to achieve our goals – such as waiting for conditions to change, or working to change them by reducing the power of the resistant person – perhaps seeking to reach our goals another way?

Here are three conditions where ceasing your attempts at persuasion is likely the best move: 

  • When you realize the person considers himself to be always right and, as a consequence, sees you as usually or always wrong.
  • When he or she inevitably takes the opposite side of whatever argument is being advanced.  This is the perpetual devil’s advocate, who argues for argument’s sake even if aware of the habit.
  • When the person actually considers your arguments to be evidence of the correctness of his or her own.  Essentially, everything you say just makes him or her even more intractable.
  • Before giving up on persuasion do a self-check on whether you’re being less than diligent, perhaps by using faulty reasoning, failing to adequately consider persuasion alternatives, or not observing how others successfully influence this person.   If you’ve done all the above, you may indeed be in one of those rare situations where backing off and finding another way forward is not being a quitter; it’s the wisest course.

    Photo:  auremar/Shutterstock.com

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