Person To Person: Why Trying To Change People Will Backfire

Judi Light Hopson, Emma H. Hopson and Ted Hagen
Tribune News Service

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Want to change someone? Tread lightly. As professionals will attest, changing your approach, words, and criticisms to shed a positive light on someone isn’t difficult and will probably garner better results.


If you’re hitting your head against a wall, could it be that you’re trying to change someone?

Instead, think in terms of how you can bring out the best in someone.
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In other words, help them change themselves by their own willpower.

Maybe you want your stepson to stop taking drugs. Or you want your daughter to stand up to her supervisor at work.

We’ve all tried to force teens to clean their rooms, talk someone into losing weight, or talk until we were blue in the face to engage cooperation from others.

Usually, this approach will cause people to dig their heels in and do the opposite of what we want. They do this so we can’t control them.

Since we all know that directly confronting someone is hard to do, we need to step back and try other tactics.

“Changing a person is like trying to change a rock into soil,” laughs a psychologist we’ll call Edmond. “The more people are urged to change, the more they’ll stick to their old ways.”

Edmond says that motivation takes a little manipulation. But, he insists, our goal must always be a noble goal to help the other person.

“It’s easier to focus on what needs to change versus forcing a person to change,” says Edmond.

He insists, “When they see doing something more productively might work, they’ll learn to fine-tune themselves inwardly.”

These tips can help you motivate others to change:

– Let the other person know you care about them. You can say, “I want you to feel free to talk to me,” or “I like to check in with you to make sure you’re okay.”

– Tell someone you have faith in their abilities. Say, “You can do anything you put your mind to.” Never say something foolish such as, “You’ve always been a loser.” Put good labels on people, even if you must say, “I know you can conquer your drinking problem.”

– Don’t pretend to know the answers. Instead, offer to help the other person find the answers. Tell someone, “I will be glad to go to a therapist with you.” Never say, “I hope you can find yourself a good therapist.”
By using these tactics, you’re separating the person from the problem. Don’t say, “You are the problem.”

“I remember I was angry with my wife’s brother Andrew for not working,” says a retailer manager we’ll call Jake.

“My brother-in-law, it turned out, needed a knee replacement. He had no health insurance, and he was living with us.”

Jake overhead his brother-in-law talking on the phone. This was a light-bulb moment for Jake.

“Andrew had hidden the truth from us,” says Jake. “He and I sat down one afternoon, and I asked him if he had any health issues. I told him I wanted to help him, but I wanted him to trust me.”

Jake says this was a pivotal moment. Andrew confided his health issues and his worst fears of never being able to work.

“Once you help someone get everything on the table, the relationship will improve. You can find answers,” says Jake. “Silence and fear are the real killers of fixing people-type problems.”

Andrew, says Jake, got into a community program to pay for his health insurance. Andrew got his knee replacement, and finally, Andrew got a very good job.

Changing your approach, words, and criticisms to shed positive light on someone isn’t difficult. Just coach someone in a kind way. Don’t force anything.

(Judi Light Hopson is the Executive Director of the stress management website USA Wellness Café at Emma Hopson is an author and a nurse educator. Ted Hagen is a family psychologist.)

©2021 Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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