Picture this: You are eager to roll your sleeves up and tackle a work challenge. You have a ton of ideas for not only solving the problem but also turning it into an opportunity. You start working on it thinking your teammates are going to be just as enthusiastic. And then you cross paths with a stoperator who halts your progress.

A stoperator can be described as a negative leader, according to Kevin Sanchez, Director of Operations at Pac-Rite Meat Products, “They will shut down ideas and be very quick to identify potential problems brought forth by a specific situation or potential solution. A stoperator is a person who impedes progress instead of enabling advancement.”

Sounds familiar and oh so annoying? Before judging your coworker and giving up, know that there is a range of reasons behind stoperating tendencies. And not all is lost as far as moving forward and finding effective ways to deal with your difficult teammate.

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“I wish most individuals operating in leadership positions knew that stoperators are not necessarily a problem. They wield lots of insight, and oftentimes help us find out things that we otherwise did not consider,” says Joey Odman, Director of Development at Allied Properties REIT, a real estate investment trust.

“They can be valuable sounding boards to ensure that a given idea is the appropriate solution and to prevent future pitfalls. Therefore, although hearing about challenges when we are in a solution mode may be frustrating, there is still some good to take out of the stoperators.”

Signs your coworker is a stoperator

If you’re wondering whether you’re dealing with a stoperator, here are five signs your coworker is one — and what to do about it so you can turn the situation into a win regardless of their attitude.

They tend to be short-sighted and pessimistic

“Stoperators often focus on the symptoms of a greater problem instead of considering the opportunities associated with fixing the root cause of the issue on a permanent basis,” says Sanchez. “In my experience, stoperators are also quick to see the burden on themselves or their team but overlook the potential gains for the organization or the department as a whole.”

They don’t persevere past the point of identifying a challenge

According to Odman, the best problem-solvers identify and deconstruct issues with the goal of overcoming them. But stoperators, well, stop once they’ve identified the problem. “They get blocked once they’ve found the issue and don’t persevere past that point in order to find a solution or overcome the challenge they have discovered,” he says.

You can even notice some subtle warning signs in smaller meetings when people are asked something along the lines of “What do we do now?”. Contributors who avoid going further or thinking of the next step are often stoperators.

They have issues letting go of control

Sanchez says stoperators can often be controlling and insist there is only one way to do things (their way). They struggle with letting go of the reins, and this rigid approach extends to their mindset and inflexibility of thought.

On the other hand, open-minded professionals are less likely to be stoperators and more willing to collaborate and try different things in order to come up with solutions.

They seem driven by self-interest

“I’ve noticed that stoperators can be close-minded and self-centered, whether it’s done consciously or not,” adds Sanchez.

So if your coworker resists a beneficial change of workflow because it’s going to affect their personal schedule in a way they dislike, you might just be dealing with a stoperator.
They get triggered by change and threatened by others
Insert fresh, ambitious ideas and combine them with newcomers and a stoperator will magically appear.

“I’ve often found that stoperators seem to appear more in situations where there is a lack of trust or motivation involved, such as big audacious changes created by newcomers or when a younger, inexperienced person is part of a larger discussion and brings forward new ideas,” says Odman.

How to deal with a stoperator

Let’s say you have come to the conclusion that you are currently working with a stoperator. What now? Before trying to get rid of them or escalating a conflict, try dealing with them with understanding and clever maneuvering.

Have empathy

First, empathy is key. And so is acceptance: there will always be stoperators. “Dealing with all types of individuals is part of the human experience, whether in our personal lives or professional lives,” says Odman.

“Stoperators will be a part of our interactions in a countless number of settings. The challenge does not lie in whether we will encounter them, but rather how we deal with them when we do.”

Reassure them

Understanding the psyche of the stoperator you are dealing with can help you provide reassurance, which will help get over operational roadblocks. Be clear and give a lot of context.

“Be clear. Humans are hardwired to be afraid of what they do not know. When you identify and demystify a clear gameplan, stoperators have less to fear about the unknown,” says Sanchez. He also suggests getting the stoperator on board by offering to test a change before implementing it permanently.

“Never underestimate the power of just trying something temporarily. Testing a solution does not undermine anything or anyone, but it can help make things more concrete and understand changes in a practical manner.”

Help them see the bigger picture

Armed with the knowledge that stoperators tend to be short-sighted, you can also gently nudge your coworker towards seeing the bigger picture. How? “Focus on the problem, not the symptom of the problem,” says Sanchez. “Too many people fail to see a root cause and can only identify what is in plain sight.”

“Also, show the potential impacts of a solution on various other departments. A 10% burden on one individual may make a 100% difference in another department.”
Find out what drives them

Finally, it’s important to figure out what drives the stoperator you are dealing with so you can work together more effectively through the power of motivation.

“Everybody is motivated by something, and I strive to find what motivates the operators and how to help them shift their mindset as required for the task at hand,” says Odman.

“Getting to know the reasons for the stoperator instincts — fear, frustration, challenges with change, wanting to demonstrate value, etc. — helps understand where and how to position them and how to involve them in meetings.”