“I’m Not Stubborn, I’m Persistent”: Stubbornness and Personality Types

Darrell’s avatar

The Problem with the Word “Stubborn”

Here’s the thing about “stubbornness”: while the word carries clear negative overtones, people aren’t likely to interpret what is going on in the same way. One’s own stubbornness is usually seen as the right thing to do or believe. Who applies the word “stubborn” highly depends on individual perspectives. One person’s stubbornness is another person’s perseverance. Where one party might judge another person as being difficult, the “difficult” party sees themselves as righteously committed.

To muddle things more, people sometimes use “stubborn” as a humble brag. Instead of a person bragging about their ability to persist, they might say, “Oh, I’m just stubborn about things like that.” The word maintains a slight glimmer of the negative. But everyone knows that people making such statements don’t intend them to be negative. It’s complimenting oneself without complimenting oneself – as humble brags are wont to do.

Enter Personality Types

Like almost any issue that involves communication and relating to others, personality type can play a large role in stubbornness, persistence, and similar expressions of resolve. We’ll be looking at likely stubbornness triggers for each Role: Analysts (NT), Diplomats (NF), Sentinels (SJ), and Explorers (SP). For this article, we’ve broken our exploration into four parts:

  1. Type of Stubbornness/Persistence: What are the general ideas, beliefs, or behaviors that members of a Role are likely to find difficult to let go of? They may do so reasonably or out of obstinance…and sometimes a mixture of both.
  2. Persistence, Not Stubbornness: What might reasonable persistence look like? When is the proper time for digging in one’s heels?
  3. In the Stubbornness Zone: This section will explore when persistence goes too far and becomes obstinance, again according to the core personality traits by which we determine the Roles.
  4. How to Let Go: Lastly, what kind of people would we be if we didn’t offer some suggestions or perspectives that may help you let go of the trancelike inflexibility that is stubbornness?

Picture stubbornness as a tug-of-war, and our advice as proposed ways for you to let go of your end of the rope.

As always, these are generalities, and mileage may vary according to the individual. You might also notice that we aren’t discussing dysfunctional motivations and insecurities that often come into play with stubbornness. We’re more interested in the matters that might tempt certain personality types to be tenacious. Emotional/ego needs are another discussion that may be outside of the scope of personalities.

Analysts: The Proud and the Knowing

Analyst personality types: Architects (INTJ), Logicians (INTP), Commanders (ENTJ), Debaters (ENTP)

62% of Analysts say pride often makes them stubborn, compared to 54% of Explorers, 48% of Diplomats, and 45% of Sentinels.

1. Type of Stubbornness/Persistence

For some, pride is a flaw – even a sin that comes before a fall. But without some measure of pride, where would we be? Gaining and maintaining pride can be very motivational. It’s a positive feeling and a positive self-assessment and may be well worth pursuing.

Along with many other things most people feel proud of, Analysts take great pride in the way they handle logic and knowledge. And there is often much to be proud of. These personalities have a thing for systems and strategies, and, if they feel they have landed on a good one, they may fight for it.

Rationality is the primary measure of things for Analysts, and if they believe that they have constructed a good argument, they likely see it as infallible or at least close to perfect, since they tend to see anything built on logic as bulletproof. And if a position is infallible, counterarguments become meaningless. Such a position almost naturally leads to persistence or stubbornness – and proud persistence or proud stubbornness at that.

“It makes perfect sense. I crunched the numbers. How can you not agree?”

“I put a lot of thought into this. I know it inside and out. Trust me here.”

2. Persistence, Not Stubbornness

Just like there is nothing wrong with pride, there is nothing wrong with standing firm, if a person has done their homework, explored all angles, and still feels fairly certain of the efficacy or correctness of a stance. Committed Analysts who defend their truth after doing the hard work of exploring an idea or method thoroughly are well within the Persistence Zone.

As French writer Victor Hugo said, “No army can withstand the strength of an idea whose time has come.” With such ideas, persistence should not only be allowed. Instead, many would likely agree that it should be insisted upon.

3. In the Stubbornness Zone

While it’s true that a well-considered idea is worth fighting for, persistence slides into the Stubbornness Zone when Analysts lose touch with the reason for having an open mind. Analyst personality types do not always read people or connect with them well. But they connect with ideas. They may come to see their thoughts as superior to other people’s. Of all the Roles, Analysts are the least likely to say they find it easy to respect opinions they disagree with.

A conclusion is more useful when it’s open to new information and challenges. The most effective conclusions are conditional conclusions that are nimble enough to change with any new information. Stubbornness enters the picture when Analysts stand up for an idea after having lost the ability to hear other people’s points of view or after walling themselves off from fresh material.

In our research, Analysts are the group most likely to say their ego often gets them into trouble. Perhaps some express that ego through stubbornness. Stubbornness is likely to put a strain on Analysts’ relationships and prevent them from expanding ideas beyond their own perspectives.

4. How to Let Go

Acknowledge that there is no such thing as a perfect idea. Accept that most ideas and positions are by nature imperfect and impermanent. Any strategy you come up with will probably shift over time into something different. If a plan can change later, maybe it makes sense for you to change it now, if someone else has a decent enough idea to add to the mix. (The concept of flexibility may be easier for Prospecting Analysts than it is for Judging Analysts.)

Great ideas are worth fighting for, but there’s always the possibility of angles you’ve missed. Other people see things in different ways, and their perspectives may be useful in changing your idea to something even more useful. Listen to others. Under the right circumstances, their distinct viewpoints may outweigh even your most rational conclusion.

Fortunately for Analysts, an open mind is necessary for learning. So, many of them value openness. A mind willing to accept alternate ideas is a necessary ingredient when trying to shed stubbornness. But this only happens if they sidestep their pride.

Diplomat Stubbornness: The Passionate and the Visionary

Diplomat personality types: Advocates (INFJ), Mediators (INFP), Protagonists (ENFJ), Campaigners (ENFP)

70% of Diplomats say it usually takes them a long time to quit something even after they realize that they should quit it, compared to 59% of Sentinels, 49% of Analysts, and 48% of Explorers.

1. Type of Stubbornness/Persistence

Considering Diplomats modus operandi and their fondness for causes, you might think that they mostly hold their ground when righteously battling the injustices of the world. And this may be true to a degree. But in our research, we found that, more often than not, Diplomats expressed their stubbornness/persistence in more personal ways. They often report having trouble letting go of something – and usually that something involves their quitting an enterprise that is clearly doomed. This suggests an inner conflict, and their tug-of-war occurs mostly within Diplomats’ psyche.

To further support the idea that they are less likely to express their persistence/stubbornness outwardly, our studies show that, when compared to other Roles, Diplomats tend to give up easily when in a conflict. They are the Role most likely to fear being rejected. Although there are leaders among them, on the whole, these personalities prefer not to control people. So, despite all of their ideological stances, Diplomats do not see themselves as very willing to push against the will and wishes of others.

(It’s possible that Diplomats’ answers in our research questions referred to the people in their everyday lives. They might show a different attitude toward some faceless Goliath of societal unfairness whom they don’t know personally.)

So, who does that leave if Diplomats are to express any stubbornness at all? They become their own prime target. And this makes sense. Diplomats tend to filter their decision-making through their feelings. They also tend to foster growth in other people and likely expect similar growth in themselves. A sense of failure to grow or, more mildly put, a lack of desired positive outcomes may be something they resist with all the strength they can muster. Stopping before they finally improve themselves or a situation, even if all evidence points to failure, can seem unacceptable to Diplomats.

“Maybe if I just try a little more, I can make this happen. Maybe the mountain of evidence is wrong. It’s worth a shot.”

“Maybe this relationship is not falling apart. It just looks that way. Let’s hang in there and try again. We’re better than this.”

2. Persistence, Not Stubbornness

And perseverance, in the right measure for the right cause, is admirable. We marvel at those who can stick with something even when the going gets rough. Google “The Power of Perseverance.” From religious organizations to TED talks, perseverance is something to behold with awe, if we are to believe the search engines.

And we can admire stick-to-itiveness in Diplomats who refuse to give up. They may hang in there with people who need support well after others have stopped providing it. These personalities often feel a strong, empathetic connection with other people and don’t want to abandon them. Sometimes, a little extra tenacity may be exactly the mechanism that lifts those in need. And when their persistence succeeds, Diplomats are likely to feel that they’ve fulfilled their purpose.

3. In the Stubbornness Zone

So, Diplomats’ impulse to hang in there and keep trying is laudable. But only if it makes sense. And that brings us to the Stubbornness Zone. Where rationality might call attention to the reasonable merits of stopping, emotions may counter with a hopeful call to persevere.

The strong place for Diplomats is when they can park their idealistic aspirations next to a realistic view of what’s happening. When those two views are out of sync, Diplomats can find themselves on the treadmill of perfectionism. They may not always pay careful attention to details like other personality types do when they’re experiencing perfectionism. But they often hold tight to a sense of what things should look like in an imagined, perfect world.

Obstinance rears its ugly head when the expected outcome looks unlikely or even impossible – and yet Diplomats push themselves to realize their expectations, anyway. That is classic stubbornness.

The damage stubborn Diplomats do is mostly to themselves. They are likely to feel disappointment and suffer from wounds to their self-esteem when the truth finally thumps them squarely in the emotions. They may blame themselves if they realize that the energy they dedicated to their tenacity might have had a better use elsewhere. Regret and guilt can be painful.

4. How to Let Go

Letting go for Diplomats is about regaining perspective. You take a humanistic approach in most things. At some level, other people are important to you. Perhaps seeking wise counsel from others can help you when your quest goes a bit Don Quixote because of stubbornness. A friend who holds similar passions, but at a more objective distance, might serve as a trusted advisor. You can be fairly sure that such a person is giving you advice from the right place in their heart, and that they are not sabotaging your efforts.

Asking outcome questions may also help. If you suspect that you’re being stubborn, divide a chart into two columns. In one column, list the outcomes you desire. Then, in the second column, take some version of a devil’s advocate position and list potential outcomes in the most disastrous terms you can imagine. Ask yourself, “What can go wrong?” Then, seek a compromise somewhere between the two. Maybe somewhere in that middle ground is a way that can get you closer to fulfilling your ambition but in a more realistic, less stubborn manner.

Sentinel Stubbornness: The Consistent and the Loyal

Sentinel personality types: Logisticians (ISTJ), Defenders (ISFJ), Executives (ESTJ), Consuls (ESFJ)

61% of Sentinels say a rebellious attitude is dangerous, compared to 41% of Diplomats, 38% of Analysts, and 36% of Explorers.

1. Type of Stubbornness/Persistence

As a group, Sentinels are above average in our research in saying they would rather have more control than more excitement in their lives. Along with Analysts, they are also above average in saying they enjoy micromanaging things. Sentinels are also more likely than other Roles to say they have invested a lot in building their reputations, showing that they have worked hard to maintain a consistently positive image for themselves. Finally, they find it harder than the other Roles (although Diplomats are a close second) to give up something they’ve invested time in.

Sentinels are very loyal individuals. They are loyal to their traditions, their work ethic, people in their family, people whom they work for, people in their community… The list of their loyalties potentially goes on and on, the length depending on the particular Sentinel and the size of their connections to others.

When you combine loyalty with their consistency and desire to control outcomes, pointing to where they might display persistence/stubbornness may come as no surprise. When things veer from the predictable or challenge their loyalties, Sentinel personalities are likely to stand firm in trying to keep things on course and to return everything to how they believe it should be.

“That’s not how we do that here.”

“How can you say such a thing about Ms. Entrepreneur? She’s worked hard to keep this venture afloat. We can certainly forgive her if she’s not perfect.”

2. Persistence, Not Stubbornness

Consistency may not be all that exciting. To some personality types who prefer spontaneity and novelty, it might sound like drudgery. But without it, the world would fall into chaos. Sentinels are those who stand guard over any impulses to get too carried away with alternative paths. And for many in this Role, that is a job they take seriously.

They potentially save the energy and time put into unnecessary “change for change’s sake” and can channel those resources into more useful directions when the right Sentinel persists in the right way and at the right time. Their persistence keeps the continuity that is essential for stability to remain intact.

Loyalty is also an admirable quality. Without some support from followers, there are no leaders. Communities will fall apart if no one dedicates themselves to keeping alive the things that bind a group of people together. Persisting in allegiance to someone – some group of people or even a method – can help promote a steady vision and a sure direction that results in reliable progress.

3. In the Stubbornness Zone

But change also has its place, and Sentinels may slide into the Stubbornness Zone when they resist it. “The way it’s always been” might have been effective in its day, but perhaps now there is a better way.

Insisting on the things that ensure consistency can also result in stagnation. If these personalities cannot see that the time for change has come and stubbornly insist on clinging to the reliable old ways, they can miss out on opportunities for growth.

Loyalty is wonderful. But the stubbornness of blind loyalty can be dangerous or, at the very least, damaging. Replacing rational assessments with sweepingly positive views of someone or something can lead to disappointment or self-deception. Persisting in misplaced loyalty often goes from bad to worse, and stubbornly sticking through thick and thin can have serious drawbacks.

4. How to Let Go

Trying stubbornly to avoid new ways of doing things may be about expectations. You may have decided how things should be in a world that is changing much faster than all your shoulds can keep up with. While realizing that sometimes maintaining consistency is a battle worth fighting, it might not always be useful or worth it.

Pay attention to your use of “should,” “must,” or “ought” – not only when you’re speaking, but also when you’re thinking. Is your imperative backed by the reality of the situation? Is it true that there is only one way to do a thing? (Hint: That is rarely the case.)

Ronald Reagan famously said, “Trust, but verify.” Stepping back enough to take a more objective view of a person or an organization does not necessarily negate loyalty. In fact, it may be more loyal to challenge someone, or some group, headed in the wrong direction. Offering an unbiased and frank opinion might save those you trust from horrible consequences. Letting go of your end of the loyalty tug-of-war rope means showing loyalty by being impartial and honest, and not insisting that a person or group is always right.

Explorer Stubbornness: The Flexible and the Stubbornly Unstubborn

Explorer personality types: Virtuosos (ISTP), Adventurers (ISFP), Entrepreneurs (ESTP), Entertainers (ESFP)

57% of Explorers find it easy to accept that they cannot change something or someone, compared to 46% of Analysts, 46% of Sentinels, and 38% of Diplomats.

1. Type of Stubbornness/Persistence

You may notice that the research question above is not about stubbornness but the lack of stubbornness. Explorers are probably the least stubborn personality types because of their Prospecting trait and the flexibility it brings. In fact, Explorers may need to be careful not to go too far to the other side and may need to commit more. Letting go is relatively easy for Explorers. Perhaps it’s sometimes too easy.

That doesn’t mean that they are free of stubbornness. Some may be stubbornly unstubborn. If you try to nail them down on a position or require a specific behavior, they may become evasive and resist committing to something that they interpret as boxing them in. It’s not unusual for Explorers to want to put their unique spin on a situation.

Explorers respect organization and protocol in their own fashion. They are often craftsmen, healthcare workers, and technicians, or have other jobs where strict order and methods are often necessary. But even in those cases, Explorers might be less dogmatic about sticking to a structured method if they can’t see the immediate value of it.

Explorers generally score high in research questions that involve staying in the moment. They may insist on their spontaneity, despite what others want or what is effective. That insistence would be just another form of stubbornness/persistence.

2. Persistence, Not Stubbornness

We often speculate that if something isn’t working and there is a need for a “seat of your pants” solution, Explorers are great to have around. Being less married to a single, firm way of doing something allows them the freedom to try other, sometimes unorthodox things. The methods they try may not always be by the book, but they may be practical and creative. And there may lie the difference between success and failure.

Offering alternative points of view, born of their suppler approach, Explorers bring fresh perspectives that are sometimes useful. Offering their novel viewpoint consistently rather than insisting on it keeps them in the Persistence Zone.

3. In the Stubbornness Zone

As hinted at in the last paragraph, Explorer personalities become stubborn when they insist on their approach, even when it is inappropriate or ineffective from the point of view of others. There are times to commit. There are times to do things by the book. Those Explorers who obstinately refuse to commit adequately enough or who ignore established practices with few exceptions can land themselves in the Stubbornnss Zone.

Explorers are often sensitive and generally describe themselves as respectful of others (perhaps more so Explorers with the Feeling trait than those with the Thinking trait). So, their insistence on their own style may not always come in the form of open rebellion with some Explorers. But there are less direct methods of insisting on one’s own way. An “it’s easier to apologize than to ask permission” mentality might quietly come into play, for example. But no matter how subtle or covert the maneuver, it can still amount to stubbornness.

4. How to Let Go

Letting go may mean finding a balance between your valuable spur-of-the-moment take on things and an understanding that it is a specialized tool – not something you need to use in all situations. In fact, part of its value might be in the novelty and the surprise that it brings. A wow factor is only a wow factor if it’s not routine – and many Explorers (especially, but not limited to, the Extraverted among them) like the wow factor. Using your spontaneity and your fleet-of-foot ingenuity sparingly and wrapped within more conventional approaches may be the most prized use of your matchless style.

Letting go of your end of the rope means accepting that there are legitimate reasons for ways different from your own. That doesn’t mean abandoning your unique perspective – it just means finding a place for it within other perspectives. Living in the moment has wonderful advantages – but so do long-term strategic plans. Find the compromise.

It’s Knowing When to Stop or Change Course

We all have stubborn streaks. It’s often a good impulse (a reasonable commitment) that’s gone bad. It’s commitment on steroids.

Other distinguishing influences we didn’t talk about much in the above article are the emotional/ego drives and insecurities involved. That’s because a wrong motivation can be similar regardless of personality type.

Questions arise with stubbornness: “Is it really about being committed to something, or is it about pride and ego?” “Am I persisting out of a generous need to make things good for everyone, or do I just want the other person to look bad?” “Am I holding my ground because it’s actually the right thing to do, or am I just too insecure to let it go?”

These are character questions that we all must constantly ask ourselves. Most of us have been at least partially guilty of “aggressive stubbornness.” It’s part of being human. But these things are less likely to be strictly a matter of personality types. Other factors are in the mix.

Hopefully, we’ve provided a guide to understanding how personalities might influence expressions of stubbornness. Such understanding may help us deal better with our own obstinance and perhaps even the obstinance of others. Understanding might help us be more patient when we encounter stubborn behavior.

Please share your own experiences with stubbornness and your thoughts about how it syncs with your personality type or the personality type of others.

Further Reading

Atticus Finch’s Personality Type: Standing Up for What’s Right

C’mon. Do You Really Believe That? Arguing Just for the Fun of It

Personality Type and the Satisfaction of Feeling Superior

Can We at Least Agree on That? Finding Common Ground by Personality Type