"You can't make people better by making them feel worse."
~ Adapted from Pam Leo

Getting Others to Change!

This quote from Pam Leo was originally about parenting, and said, “You can’t make kids be better by making them feel worse.” This is, of course, true, but I wanted to broaden the potential for application by applying it to all people versus just kids.

The reason for selecting this as my quote and comment of the week comes from the fact that, in my seminars and trainings, so many people seemed to be focused on correcting other’s bad behavior. Whether kids or coworkers, there seems to be a tremendous impetus to point out what people are doing wrong and make them stop!

While this is understandable, most people report being extremely frustrated when this tactic doesn’t work. In fact, rather than the other person (or kid) hearing our admonition as valuable information and changing, most tell me that this tendency to point out what they are doing wrong only makes them start defending the very behavior we want them to change.

The reason for this has to do with how the brain processes information. The middle brain or limbic system is responsible for keeping us safe and alive as a specie, and, therefore, tends to interpret almost anything negative as dangerous and throws us into the defensive brain, or the part of the brain designed to deal with danger (the lower 20% of the brain called the brainstem).

Here is where they respond defensively, because in a dangerous situation, defending themselves from danger would be a good idea. Of course, our criticisms aren’t really “dangerous,” but they are being interpreted that way by their limbic system.

This is what is implied in the statement, “You can’t make people better by making them feel worse.” If our goal is, indeed, to “make them better,” we must do this by bringing out their best…not trying to stop their worst.

We do this by first becoming clear about who they are at their best. In brain science, this means who they are when they are coming from the clear, confident, creative part of the brain (the neocortex, or what I call “The Top of the Mind”). This is done by holding an image of them doing something well, or, if we are talking about a member of your family, by imagining them doing what they love.

Next, we need to be clear about what we want them to change or do differently, and, most importantly, how this new behavior will be good for them, or congruent with what is important to them. Of course, this assumes that we know what is important to them, which is probably a big assumption given that few people ever ask.

This is one of the things I teach in my “Life from the Top of Mind” system… how to influence others by bringing out their best, which means accessing the “best” part of their brain. If this is a skill that you feel would be valuable to you and/or those in your organization, I suggest you contact me, because trying to make people better by making them feel worse is a failed strategy.

~ All the best, Dr. Bill