Taming the Inner Mule

Every now and then I need reminding that I can be a stubborn, opinionated so-and-so .  This post helps me remember and  keep working on being less so.  Just in case you struggle with a similar challenge, there are some ideas here that might help you see the wisdom of working on it too.


The other night I was reminded how stubborn I can be at times. Yep. Really.

I was watching the evening news with my husband and he asked me to change the channel so he could watch the national, rather than the provincial news.  I said, “This is the National News”.

He said, “No it isn’t. Lloyd Robertson is on the national news and I prefer listening to him over the other guy on channel three”

I said, “ Well, this is Lloyd Robertson’s program.

He said, “ No it isn’t but if you think so, you must be right”

Suffice it to say, after a few more seconds of an “It is so! It is not!” kind of exchange, I discovered I was wrong, but not before I had dug in my heels and clung to my view of things until it sounded somewhat reminiscent of this:

Of course our “discussion” was not quite as strident as the one portrayed, but the point is, I believed I was right and clung to that belief as if it were a baby cub and I, a mother lion.  Luckily, this kind of intractability does not happen in our house too often, but when it does, everything seems to shut down until we discover where the error in thinking lies. And, until a correction, and an apology, is made.

Stubbornness is an insidious thing.  It can creep up on you and before you know it there is an enormous barrier between you and another person, or you and a bunch of other persons.  In leadership, it is also a destructive thing that closes the door on creativity and serves to frustrate and exclude people whose potential contribution is often ignored or discounted.

Let’s face it; we all like to be right.  If it were possible, we would all like to be right all of the time…but it’s not.

So, what to do?   Well, a good place to start is by looking in the mirror.  All of us are stubborn at some time or another.  It’s not that rare.  But, here’s the thing.  If we are leaders of people we cannot afford to luxuriate in the illusion that we are always right.  Getting married to our own ideas to the exclusion of others is an appalling waste of everyone’s time and talent.  And really, failing to tame the inner mule comes with the high cost of lost opportunity and damaged relationships, which could be more than we are willing to pay.

So on those occasions when we notice ourselves digging in for a session of  “Yes, it is. No it’s not” Let’s do three things.  Stop…even if it is in mid-sentence.  Step Back…create some space in the dialogue long enough to take a breath. And Listen…focus on really understanding what is being said and pretend, for a moment that the other person actually might know what s/he is talking about.

By doing things as simple as that, our chances of discovering a plethora of useful and creative perspectives that will serve the collective purpose will be that much greater.

That’s what I think anyway. What do you think?  When was the last time you dug in your heels and started braying?


** Please note the use of this video clip is meant only as a learning tool to compliment the text of this post and is in no way intent to infringe on copyright.



Filed under Building Relationships, Employee engagement, Leadership, Leadership Development, Uncategorized

6 responses to “Taming the Inner Mule

  1. Gwyn, another great post –
    As a leader when you find yourself working with those who have a compelling ‘need to be right’, what strategies do you use to help them to ‘stop’, ‘step back’, and ‘listen’?
    BTW, I’ve been on both sides of that couch – I hate being the donkey! 🙂

    Best regards,

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Carl ~ Yes, I’m not very fond of making an ass of myself either but recognizing when my ears are growing usually comes well after I’ve dug into my position 🙂 I think this is true of most of us and one thing that helps us to at least get to the “stop” part is to see evidence that we are wrong. When the evidence is presented, we are more willing to come down off our position and listen.
      When dealing with others, I think the bigger decision for leaders in these situations is how important it is to convince someone their thinking is not the only “right” thinking. For me, it is a situational thing. Sometimes it’s okay to simply agree to disagree and walk away. Other times, there is a real need for collaboration that is impeded by one person’s obstinacy. And that obviously requires more work, and patience, on the part of the leader as well as other members of the team. I think too, that this is a time when a well placed question can come in handy, one that will give “the donkey” cause to pause and challenge his/her own thinking.
      Thanks for coming by and giving me cause to think more about this…and I will.

  2. Hi Gwyn —
    Great advice. Every now and then I’m shocked at what I just heard come out of my mouth. I’m certain there’s a graph in existence somewhere proving a direct correlation between the degree of stubbornness in an argument and a loss of IQ points.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Susan ~ I’m sure you’re right. And, I also suspect there is a burgeoning membership in the cling-to-your-position-beyond-reason club. So, like me, you are no doubt in good company 🙂 Thanks for coming by!

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