You Can’t Change Anyone
May 19, 2021
All of us have that one or two folks in our lives who stress us out because of their actions.
- The exams are nearing, and the kid doesn’t seem to care. You want to see him focused o his studies, but he seems more interested in keeping track of the sporting season. You have this urge to shake your child and tell him to get serious about his studies.
- There is a big target ahead of the organization, and you want the team member to show the urgency, the hustle. But, sadly, that is not happening. You feel your team member is slacking out, and you desperately want to change his approach.
- You want your colleague to be more responsive, but he continues to disappoint you. He delays and procrastinates. You wonder how you can change his attitude.
- You want your spouse to be more responsible and supportive on family matters. You keep pushing him on this. But he seems completely disinterested.
We all have people in our lives whom we want to change for the better, and we take the stress of trying to push these people to change. We think we are helping these people by trying to push them. After all, it is for their own good.
Therefore under the garb of trying to help, we try different tactics. We try cajoling them; we get aggressive with them, or we try to coach them. But, nothing works. These folks don’t change. Only our stress builds up.
Over the years, I have realized this idea of trying to change somebody-your kids, spouse, colleagues, or friends-it is a dead end. You cannot change anyone unilaterally unless that other person is prepared to change.
If You Want To Change Someone, Coercion Will Certainly Not Work
How would you feel if someone pushes you to change when you are not ready?
Whenever someone tries to make you do something that you are unwilling to do, you will resent it, even if it is the right thing. Because, at some level, you feel that the other person is not trusting you to figure things out for yourself. You feel as if your autonomy and your right to choose your actions are being violated. Even if you end up doing what is required, in a weird way, you will not feel any emotional satisfaction that you would normally get from doing the right thing. Because the other person made you do it.
If coercion will not work with you, why do you think it will work on someone?
How About Being Nice And Trying To Be Helpful. Will It Change Someone?
Often, we go above and beyond doing something extra for some folks, hoping to make them feel better and make them change through the goodness of our actions. But ironically, we only end up imposing feelings of guilt, shame, and embarrassment.
A junior team member is struggling with putting together an important presentation. She has shared two drafts, and you are just not satisfied. Instead of guiding and supporting her, you decide you want to show her how it is done. So you unilaterally rework the entire presentation on your own and send her the final version. You might be thinking she will be grateful because you have done her work and also shown her how an excellent presentation is prepared. But, far from inspiring or changing her, you have completed demotivated her. Thanks to what you have done, she now feels inadequate and incompetent because of not being able to do a good job in the first place.
Most times trying to change others involves some form of coercion or manipulation. They don’t work.
This then raises a fundamental question. How do you help someone(remember, I have already established it is futile to try and change someone) who you believe is self-sabotaging and doing stuff that would lead to future pain?
I feel there are three ways to help someone.
Lead Through Your Actions
The first and most obvious way is to lead through your own actions and behaviors. Not by writing the presentation yourself. That is not leading by example. Leading by your actions means you do what you have to do in a manner where the other person can observe you doing it.
So, you sit with the colleague, brainstorm with her, and guide her to do what you would have done. She will then learn and hopefully can replicate.
Don’t Impose-Be A Bouncing Board
The second way is to be a bouncing board without trying to impose your ideas. Maybe rather than telling the person what needs to be done, you can lead by asking better questions. Instead of saying do this or do that, ask the person if he can do something differently. Let the others figure it out on their own.
Most people don’t think about their actions deeply. They don’t know their own biases. SO if you can show up and ask them questions that make them notice their own motivations, you can become a powerful agent of change.
The last and possibly the most effective way is to offer your unconditional support.
Too often, our idea of trying to make the other person change is in a way linked to our self-worth. We have these silly notions like” If the team member does not perform, I will fail in my goals,” or ” If my kid falters, I have failed as a parent.”
Therefore our idea of support and help always goes with some strings attached. “I will help you this way, and if you do this, then we can achieve the outcome we want.” We help while making the other person feel as if they owe us something. This is very subtle and manipulative.
So the right way to support unconditionally goes like this. “I have some ideas about your situation. Let me know if you want to talk about it.” Leave it there. When people are ready, they will come to you seeking your help. They will be willing to listen to you and try out what you tell them, and they will genuinely appreciate you for the support.
Take this to be a mental model. You cannot change someone for the better if that person is not ready or prepared to change. Don’t waste your emotional energy trying to change others. Instead, focus on what you can do to nudge the person to change. Lead through your actions, don’t impose-be a bouncing board and support unconditionally.
Yesterday, I was clever, and I wanted to change the world. Today, I am wise. So, I am changing myself.