The Behaviour Expert Limited
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How to deal with dinosaurs in the workplace

Discover positive tactics that will help you to deal with team members who are somewhat stuck in their ways.

18th Dec 2018
The Behaviour Expert Limited
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Baby dressed as dinosaur
JulieWeiss/iStock
Baby dressed as dinosaur

In my role as a behavioural consultant, many of the business professionals I work with understand the importance – the necessity even – of continued development, change and moving with the times.

However, older or more established team members, whilst often performing well, can often be very resistant to change.

This is a common cause of conflict in the workplace and it does have an impact. People adopt the most common emotion that surrounds them and so this negative behaviour can hold back overall performance.

This can be infuriating for anyone charged with ensuring that their business, team or department stays ahead. Below are some simple yet highly effective approaches that can be used to help tackle this behaviour.

Don’t prejudge or assume

Unless you have first hand experience of a person’s exact position, reserve all judgment and always give them the benefit of the doubt before jumping to any rash conclusions.

Present the facts

This will help ensure you don’t trip yourself up.

It also helps to ensure that there is no argument to be had with you, promoting at all times a positive relationship.

Be honest

Older, wiser and fantastically more cynical often go hand in hand – so demonstrate that you’re not there to trip them up, catch them out or do anything other than work hard and play fair.

If you can’t serve as a good example, you’ll just have to serve as a horrible warning.

'One team' means just that: despite differences, there cannot exist silos or fractured teams if you’re to work together effectively.

Try to find their motivators

Remember that what motivates one person may well be very different for another. Reinforcement is subjective.

The ‘dinosaurs’ in your team have often seen it all and “been there and done that” several times over and as people get older, their motivators change significantly.

Remember that what motivates one person may well be very different for another.

The best approach is always to ask what it is that inspires or motivates them and what they would find especially rewarding.

For some it may be cash or bottles of something fizzy, yet for others it’ll be a hand-written thank you, public appreciation or leaving work early.

Spend more time with them

The knee-jerk reaction is to give challenging people a wide berth but despite your initial impression or their persistent disposition, you may well learn something from them.

View them [difficult people] as a challenge, or even a project, if it helps.

View them as a challenge, or even a project if it helps – but stubbornness to bring them along with you on the journey will help protect you from being ground down by their resistance.

Use their top performance attributes to coach others

Pessimistic and curmudgeonly characteristics often come from feeling like they’ve been sidelined, so why not use the knowledge and experience in older members of your team to everyone’s advantage?

Approach them about coaching younger or newer members of your team, or sharing best practice, tips of wisdom or even reminiscing stories from their own business journey – there is often a lot to learn from things used to be done and the reasoning and best practice of which have long been since forgotten.

Pessimistic and curmudgeonly characteristics often come from feeling like they’ve been sidelined.

However, sometimes there exist people in your team that no matter what, you just want to strangle.

Nothing you do seems to work and they seem to have made it their life’s work to annoy, irritate, grate and infest your team from the inside out.

For those individuals, a different and more drastic behaviour change approach is often required.

Use peer pressure to improve behaviour

Sometimes you have to play rough when no matter what you say isn’t going to work.

They may not like you or respect you as a result but that’s life, so don’t get hung up on it.

Sometimes you have to play rough when no matter what you say isn’t going to work.

Personally I think it’s best in life to find out who doesn’t like you and embrace it so you don’t have to waste money on Christmas gifts or offering your time to them.

Prepare succession planning

A gentle nudge to demonstrate that they aren’t indispensible often helps to get them to play ball. You don’t have to be overly blatant with this but requesting their help with job role assessments or job specifications can be the reminder they need.

It’s often not about what is said but who is saying it that can have the greatest impact.

Bring in external critique

External consultants, analysts, mystery shoppers or simply colleagues from another team can all provide external evaluation and critique, anonymously if you feel it needs it, in order to highlight areas for improvement – which are likely to be conducive with what you’ve already said.

It’s often not about what is said but who is saying it that can have the greatest impact.

Give them enough rope

Last but by no means least, and it’s not as brutal as you might think, give them enough rope to trip themselves up because as my school headteacher used to say: if you can’t serve as a good example, you’ll just have to serve as a horrible warning.

Even behaviourists know that some people we cannot change: they have to change themselves.

Replies (3)

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By phil.pryce
26th Aug 2016 10:44

An interesting read, especially as I could be seen as a dinosaur after 45 years of work; 26 years of which were spent in the Royal Air Force.
As a dinosaur, I work in a role that develops change in our organisation.
Two of your comments about us dinosaurs being 'fantastically cynical' and having 'been there; done that' seem to be dismissed as a bad thing. However, because we have endured a (large?) number of supposed changes , we have developed cynicism (here we go again); especially if they were poorly developed or implemented.
How do you cope with, "I've seen this tried before, but it didn't work!", or "why do you want to change this when it already works?"
Do you see us dinosaurs as being difficult and awkward because we are old dinosaurs, or is it that our knowledge and experience is guidance that you have more work to do to make a convincing argument that will overcome the cynicism...i.e. cynicism = pessimism (here we go again) over optimism (if it makes our job easier...!)
Rather than see us dinosaurs as being anti-change, what if you saw us a font of knowledge and experience to develop your change? If you can convince us dinosaurs, who WILL ask you difficult questions such as, "why, how, when etc. etc.), then maybe the proposed change/development might be worth doing

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james
By ChristopherJames
14th Jan 2019 09:27

The "dinosaurs" are the ones who have the experience you know. As much as you may be loathe to have to deal with older folk who are set in their ways, you cannot deny that they have done their service to the company! I'm sure that a lot of the solutions in the company are a result of their hard work. Their skills may not be as portable as they used to be, but that information in their storage hard drives is not something that you can easily replace!

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paul
By PaulChau
15th Jan 2019 08:35

I have worked with many types of dinosaurs in my previous position as well as in our current self storage. The key method to approach them is to actually communicate at their level. Make them understand why changes are necessary if they wish to remain relevant in this evolving decade but do it with professionalism.

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