Why we fail at making people change

Why we fail at making people change

People always seem to do or believe things that are destructive, inconsiderate, inefficient, ineffective, short-sighted, annoying, exasperating, etc., etc.

Those of us who know better (ahem),… would like them to stop.

But annoyingly, our efforts to cause change don’t work.

Why won’t they change dammit!

We make people wrong

Because we make people feel stupid,bad or unworthy for doing or believing as they do.

Neither the judged nor us, (the judges) make the very correct and appropriate distinction between the thing we’re trying to change and the people responsible.

Said another way: because you did something stupid, bad or silly, had a stupid idea etc., doesn’t mean that YOU are bad/silly/stupid etc.dog feeling bad

We get this intellectually but not emotionally.

In normal life, we take things personally and we process said stupid idea as if WE (not the idea) are stupid.

 We threaten their identity

We’ve come to associate our beliefs, practices, ideas and actions with our identity, our sense of self.

Not true of course; as we’re the ones merely having the beliefs, ideas etc. but since our education does not internalize this distinction most of us listen to any criticism of our ideas, beliefs etc., as a criticism (attack) on us as a person.

Consequently, our criticisms and attempts to change others’ traditional behaviours, practices or beliefs—like an unfair business practice or a personal prejudice—lands as a personal attack, and they defend, dig in and fortify positions.

and they don’t change.

We’ve all experienced this.

Hasn’t someone tried to get you to change your behaviour e.g. to stop being untidy/uncaring, drink less, eat less, do chores, do something with your life, and you feel like you—your identity, ego, your very self—are being attacked?

We’ve all felt unworthy, or like we’re bad people at those times, and we didn’t change because for us, making the change was a tacit agreement that what we were doing was wrong, which meant that WE were wrong.   (And we know how we feel about admitting that we were wrong.)

This is why it’s almost impossible to get ideological fundamentalists to change. They’ve held their unexamined positions for so long that they cannot separate themselves from their beliefs.  They see attempts to change their beliefs as an existential threat worthy of fighting to the death.

First make this one change yourself

So if you are sincere about wanting people to change, you must first make sure you are not making them (the people you want to change) feel stupid, bad or wrong.  This article called “One very useful tip for saving relationships” might help.

One Response to Why we fail at making people change

  1. The biggest help I have found in dealing with people who have ingrained not so positive behaviors, is to change my attitude to them. Changing how I react – from a knee jerk negative reaction to something more positive and evolved does make a difference.

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