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You Can’t Change Other People, So Why Do You Keep Trying?

That might sound a little strange coming from a guy who gets paid to help other people change, but it’s true.  I cannot – and do not – change other people.  I don’t fix them, I don’t improve them, I don’t file off their rough edges.  Anyone who tells you they have that power is deluding themselves.

And yet, I still get Executive Coaching engagements where someone other than my direct client has an agenda for what they want to see my client change.  Usually, it’s their well-meaning boss who believes there is a specific change my client needs to make.  Often they’ve been trying to get that person to change, and upon learning they can’t, they hire me to do it.  I’m sorry to say, I can’t do it either.  The problem is not that I’m an ineffective coach; it’s that no one, ever, truly changes as a result of someone else wanting them to change.

Change Always Comes from Within.

Change ALWAYS comes from within and it depends on 3 ingredients: 

  • A genuine desire to change;
  • Clear awareness of that desire and what’s getting in its way;
  • The will to take responsibility for creating that change within yourself.

You can’t change other people, but you can help them generate their own desire, awareness, and responsibility.  To do so, you start where the other person is, not where you want them to be.  You start by asking questions from a curious – not leading – mindset.  What do they want?  What do they want from their job, their career, their life, this situation, this relationship, etc.  Get curious and find out what this other person truly wants, while setting aside completely – even if temporarily – what you want.

Asking those questions is a great start, but they mean little if you don’t also truly listen to how the other person responds.  Think about this for a moment.  You start by asking genuinely curious questions and then you listen, wholeheartedly, without imposing your perspective.  This sounds mundane, but it’s actually magic.  Most of us are terrible at it, and in truth, we just rarely do it.  Usually our questions and listening are totally polluted by our own agenda, so when you give your curious attention and non-judgmental listening to another person, the impact is bigger than you might imagine.

Raising and clarifying another person’s awareness of themselves relies on the same skills.  Again, it’s asking open questions and being a great listener that increases self-awareness in another person.  It’s a partnership based on trust, where you’re exploring and raising awareness together.  We’re exploring possibilities, questioning assumptions, experimenting with ideas, and digging deeper into what’s motivating you.  It’s not something I’m doing to you, it’s something we’re doing together, and it depends on trust.  If I’m secretly trying to convince you of how you need to change, you will figure that out pretty quickly and the trust will evaporate.

If you can make it that far with someone, you just might be in a position to support them in taking responsibility for a small step (or a giant leap – hey, I get surprised all the time) toward real change.  Once again, this is not me telling the other person what they need to take responsibility for.  This is a choice on the other person’s part to try something new, do something differently, change their perspective.  They’re doing it because they want to, not because they have to, which is the only way it goes deeper than a temporary surface change.  I’m not changing someone; I’m liberating them to change themselves.

Ask Powerful Questions. Listen Without Judgement.

A definition of coaching I use often is helping someone get from where they are to where they want to go.  By asking powerful questions and listening without judgement or agenda, you can help someone generate the desire, awareness, and responsibility necessary to create personal change.

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