How To Change Other People: A User’s Guide To Help Others Up Their Game

By Rebecca Zucker
Partner, Next Step Partners

Originally published by Forbes.

When was the last time you felt like you won an argument? It may seem like we’re all arguing all the time lately, especially on the internet. The slightest disagreement spirals quickly into a back-and-forth where both people end up even more entrenched in the positions they started in.

Hopefully your home and work lives are a little less polarized, but it still remains that you’re going to find yourself wanting to convince someone in your life—a spouse, a coworker, a family member—of something. And when it comes to changing hearts and minds, and ultimately behavior, the how is far more important than most people realize.

To help someone make the change they need to make—not to win an argument, but to actually get through to them—it takes shifting from being a critic to an ally, according to Peter Bregman and Howie Jacobson, authors of the new book “You Can Change Other People: The Four Steps to Help Your Colleagues, Employees―Even Family―Up Their Game.” I had the chance to speak with both authors about some important aspects of making this shift.

Start with Intent.

Before you even begin talking to someone to change their mind, you need to think internally about both your intent and their intent. Rather than approaching another person from a place of anger or frustration, Bregman recommends coming to them from a place of caring or love. Even if our loved ones frustrate us (we’ve all been there), “Take a step back and understand the reason you’re frustrated is because you love or care for this person,” he says. If you’re in touch with your positive intent as you begin, that will come across in the conversation.

At the same time, you also want to be sure to try and consider their intent. “No one is acting unreasonably in their own mind,” Bregman points out. They always act in a way that makes sense to them—it might just be in your mind where they appear unreasonable. “So get into their mind for a moment. What are they trying to achieve? They may be doing it poorly, or in an inadequate or self-sabotaging way, but what is going on for them? What do they want?

“Once you’ve done those two things, you’re prepared to be an ally rather than a critic—by empathizing and actually engaging in conversation with them.”

Get their O.K. to start the conversation.

Unsolicited advice, even when it comes from a good place, can be a non-starter. “It’s hard to watch people do things that seem self-sabotaging when you know that you could just tell them the thing that will make the difference and change their behavior,” says Bregman. “But in those moments, it’s really good to just remember: if they don’t want my advice, it will create resistance.” Unsolicited advice can often feel like criticism.

Think in terms of outcomes.

It’s important to think about the outcome you want to happen and then think about how what you’re doing might be helping you or hurting you in regards to making that situation occur. Sometimes, putting your own desire first and foremost might have the opposite effect you’d want. Howie Jacobson offers an excellent example. “I’ve seen a boss that shuts down brainstorming very early in the process—he just says ‘well, that’s not gonna work.’ I asked him what the outcome he wanted was, and he said he only wanted the best ideas.

“I asked him: what is the impact of you telling people it’s not going to work right off the bat? Do you get their best ideas? He said that no, they shut down.” Jacobson points out here that front-loading his own desired outcome made it so that boss didn’t end up getting those best ideas—instead, creating an environment where ideas could come to him more freely for him to pick and choose from would have been a more productive method of brainstorming with his employees.

Don’t run away from feelings.

“We have a very good fight or flight reaction to external danger, but we apply that same reaction to negative internal sensations and emotions like shame, sadness, guilt, or frustration,” Jacobson says. “When we treat it like a threat, we become inflexible. But the best thing to do when you feel that is acknowledge it: this is terrible, but it’s okay. I don’t like it, but I can handle it.”

That kind of acknowledgement can allow you to move through emotions that want you to pull back when you get into a difficult but important conversation. Otherwise, you retreat. Bregman says “the easiest way not to feel something you don’t want to is to avoid the thing that might cause those feelings. So you procrastinate, you don’t have that conversation—so you don’t follow through on what might be an important change. If you’re willing to feel everything, then you can do anything.”

If there’s an important conversation you’re gearing up for, if you want to improve your ability to communicate productively and effectively with others despite disagreements, Bregman and Jacobson’s book You Can Change Other People: The Four Steps to Help Your Colleagues, Employees―Even Family―Up Their Game is full of great examples and sample scripts to help you shift from critic to ally and get the results you’re looking for. You can also listen to Peter Bregman’s Leadership podcast for more great insights.



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