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How to Effectively Interview a Dogmatic Thinker

In my work as a human capital consultant over the past 30 years, I’ve found that the strong dogmatic thinking style can lead to issues in the workplace. However, this article examines the dogmatic thinking style from another perspective and focuses on the best ways to interview a candidate who exhibits dogmatic thinking.

Dogmatic thinkers are people who have difficulty letting go of rigid, formal thinking constructs, or what I call their “shoulds.” These “shoulds” are their preconceived, fixed notions and opinions about how other people, decisions, processes, rules, behaviors, etc. “should” be. Everyone has these to some degree, but they sometimes have negative consequences. You can identify strong dogmatic thinkers by their ZERORISK Emotional Intelligence assessment scores of 9+ in Adherence & Organization (systemic thinking applied to the world) and 9+ in Self Expectations (systemic thinking applied to the self).

Dogmatic Thinkers in the Workplace

It’s important to be on the lookout for dogmatic thinking during the hiring process. In a workplace setting, dogmatic thinking has the potential to manifest issues around noncompliance with rules, procedures, processes, and decisions that the person doesn’t “believe” in. This is because the person’s fixed ideals, concepts, and biases (what I call their “shoulds”) aren’t being fulfilled. Dogmatic thinkers hold fast to their “shoulds,” and therefore this thinking style can lead to disagreements and even arguments with co-workers and leadership.

I was talking with a client recently who had to let a new employee go because they didn’t agree or comply with the company’s dress code policy. The candidate seemed to be a great fit for the position and culture, and they were low risk for the position based on their ZERORISK assessment and job fit report. However, after they started work, they refused to comply with the dress code.

At first glance, this may seem like insubordination—but in reality, it’s the result of dogmatic thinking. The employee didn’t agree with the dress code; it wasn’t part of their rules or “shoulds,” and therefore they didn’t think the dress code was important to follow.

When the manager asked me what they missed in the interview, I asked if they had focused on finding out how dogmatic the candidate would be about the rules and processes that would be imposed on them in the company. The hiring manager replied that they didn’t think to examine those things in the interview.

Why it’s Important to Explore Dogmatic Thinking in a Candidate

Because strong dogmatic thinkers follow their own rules and “shoulds,” they often resist rules with which they disagree. But this doesn’t mean they’re always problematic employees. When interviewing candidates who have a strong dogmatic thinking style, it’s valuable to explore the dogmatic aspect of their personality in terms of the level of compatibility with your workplace culture and how they will likely respond to your company’s rules and expectations. If the rules and expectations that will be imposed on them match with how they already think things should be, then the culture fit should be fine, all other things considered. The problems arise if your workplace culture’s rules or expectations don’t fall in line with the dogmatic thinker’s “shoulds.”

How to Approach Interview Questions for Dogmatic Thinkers

Since we’re talking about a candidate’s passionately held beliefs and ideals, it’s always a good idea to provide a realistic preview of the absolutes and non-negotiables your company and the job will ask of them. Ask questions to discover how they responded to anything that didn’t match their way of thinking in their previous roles or companies. Listen for clues about things they didn’t like or agree with. How are these going to be different in your company? Will the candidate work well with the manager for the role under consideration?

Behavioral Interview Questions for Dogmatic Thinkers

These behavioral interview questions are designed to help you learn more about the “shoulds” of a dogmatic-thinking candidate. This will help you determine whether that candidate and their passionate beliefs will match up with your culture.

Adaptability Competency

  • Describe a major change that occurred in a job that you held. How did you adapt to this change?

  • Describe a situation where you had to adjust to changes over which you had no control. How did you handle it?

Flexibility Competency

  • How do you adjust your communication style when it doesn’t meet the objectives and/or when people are not responding correctly?

  • When you have difficulty persuading someone to your point of view, what do you do? Give an example.

Follow-Up and Control Competency

  • How do you evaluate the productivity/effectiveness of your direct reports and/or peers?

  • (For a manager candidate) How do you gather data for performance reviews?

Introducing Change Competency

  • Have you ever had to introduce a policy change to your department or team? What approach did you take, and what was the result?

  • Have you ever met resistance when implementing a new idea or policy? What happened and how did you handle the problem?

Leadership Competency

  • Have you ever had difficulty getting others to accept your ideas? Describe your approach to overcoming the difficulty. Was it effective?

  • What is the toughest group with which you have collaborated? Describe how you handled the situation and the outcome.

Listening Competency

  • Describe a time when you made a mistake because you did not listen well.

  • What do you do to show people that you are listening to them?

Setting Performance Standards Competency

  • (For a manager candidate) How do you develop and set goals with your direct reports? Describe how you involve them in this process.

  • (For a manager candidate) What performance standards do you have for your team? How do you communicate these to your team?

Want to Learn More?

If you would like to learn more about dogmatic thinking and other thinking styles, the ZERORISK Hiring System gives you accurate insight into candidates’ clarity of thinking. This pre-employment assessment tool measures the competencies that correlate to success in the role you are hiring for. Contact ZERORISK HR to learn more.


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