I learned some time ago that leadership is really about relationship; that the by-product of that relationship is influence.  Recently, that led me back to the book, Influencer, by Patterson, Grenny, Maxfield, McMillan, and Switzler.

It had been a while since I had read the book, and I was curious to understand more about the process of how people change their minds.  I was particularly interested because, in my line of coaching work, someone normally changes their mind before they change their behavior.  (Sometimes you can change your viewpoint by changing what you are doing first.)

Influencer is a good read, both in terms of encouraging your role as an ‘influencer,’ and to help you deconstruct some of the ways you think about how people think and what must occur to change that.  Most of what I have experienced is that leaders take an unproductive approach when they try to  go about changing the minds of others.  In fact, I could expand that statement to include parents.  I will leave that to another time.  In many ways, this piece is adjunct to what I wrote in this space last time on ‘endings and beginnings.’

Speaking of the last piece I wrote, I received some nice comments from people about change management and the distinction of focusing on what the ‘transitions’ are.  Thank you to those who provided the feedback.  It is always appreciated.

Do your best work and be well.


Changing Others’ Minds

Most of us recognize that for something to change (behavior), that something must shift/change in how we think.  How easy it is for an individual, or a group of individuals, to change their minds is a function of how deeply held their ‘thinking’ (bias, assumption, deeply held belief) is about the subject.

It is important to remember that all change in behavior comes from closing the gap between where we perceive we are now, and where we want to be.  The size of the gap determines our motivation.  A handful of people that I have attempted to coach are not coachable because there is no motivation to change.  They like where they are.  The more they ‘like’ where they are (the more deep seated their belief is), the harder it is to get them to change their mind.  It is critical to have this awareness as a leader if we want to have any chance of achieving a shift in their thinking.

That said, what do most people do when confronted with someone who believes differently?  They/we attempt to change their minds by ‘coercion’ (our words); sometimes in a very threatening tone.  Note: this is most evident when we witness the political discourse we have experienced over the last decade.  How successful has that been?

The authors in Influencer cite the work of Dr. Bandura.  They point to the need for us to understand how/why people change their minds.

  • People choose their behaviors based on what they think will happen to them.
  • Many thoughts are incomplete or inaccurate (interpretations about an event are far more important than the facts)
  • The factors influencing whether people choose to enact a vital behavior are based on two essential expectations: Is it worth it?  Can I do this thing?
  • Verbal persuasion rarely works.
  • The great persuader is personal experience.

Knowing this, how might we alter our approach.

  1. We must first understand what their belief is about the change.
  2. Put the ‘non-believer’ where they have a chance to observe a ‘believer’ working in/with the change.  Creating a ‘vicarious’ experience to help the non-believer see how a different viewpoint works in practice.
    • A variation of this is to team up the two to talk and to ‘work together.’
    • Another variation might be to create a ‘field trip’ experience that would help create a different view.  Sometimes, by doing something different we can come to a different viewpoint.  Out of that ‘view’ we can create a different behavior.
  3. Another variation is hearing the story(s) of an ‘adopter’ in words that the ‘non-believer’ will identify with.  Stories can be quite powerful at ‘inviting’ another into a safer space to listen and to make an emotional connection.  These stories help people to shift their thinking in a more ‘organic’ way and help by-pass the common resistance experienced in most attempt to change others.

Remember, the reason ‘words’ are often so ineffective is because they create the feeling that “I’m being sold” something; this creates resistance.  Stories and other vicarious experiences ‘invite’ the listener to hear, understand and develop a connection rather than the need to defend.

I have found that my coaching model (William Glaser – Reality Therapy; Ron Ernst – Real Time Coaching) fits well with what we have been talking about, and may simplify the dynamics at work that are important for us to remember.

  • Our values, interests, and attitudes drive what we want
  • The gap between what we want and what we perceive we are getting (where we are now) is the motivation for all behavior
    • Our behavior choice is an attempt to close the gap between what we want and what we think we are currently getting
  • Getting different results requires us to change either what we want or what we are doing

If we can keep this simple understanding top of mind, as leaders or parents, we have the basis to understand why people change their mind, and why they don’t.  I have also discovered that when I allow space for someone to ‘change their mind’ (their idea), I have much greater success in helping them to identify how to get more of what they want.

It can seem counter-intuitive, or  we may believe that this process takes too long.  The reality is using our words (coercion) takes longer because your building resistance; coercion may lead to compliance, but it never leads to commitment.

To a better you…


Of Interest:

Another resource when looking at changing people’s minds.