The more we try to change others, the more resistance we invite. But the more we allow others to influence us, the more we influence them.
An Arbinger client recently told us the story of a relationship he tried to transform. He succeeded somewhat – it went from consistent animosity, backstabbing, and undermining to civility and polite conversation. But even after two years the relationship is still somewhat distant; the other person still does not trust that our client really has changed. She also feels there should be some retribution, some justice, for the ways our client wronged her.
This is a fairly common situation: We feel we’ve changed, and we want others to not only recognize (and praise us!) for our transformation, but also to go through the same transformation themselves. Having had an “aha!” realization and a shift in perspective, we want others to follow.
So we try to exert influence on the other person. We try to make them change.
But the more we try to change or influence another person, the more resistance we invite from them. Even if we think we’re being subtle, others can sense we’re approaching them from a self-focused inward mindset. They see that we want them to change because we believe we’re right, we know best, we think it would make our life easier, etc. They understand that we’re in it for ourselves and their defenses go up.
As Arbinger founder Terry Warner wrote, “If we try to influence others for our own sake and not strictly for theirs, our efforts will probably backfire. Those we seek to change will detect our intent. It is simply futile to try to change another if we do so in a critical spirit, even a mild one.”
Terry wrote, “We most effectively influence one another to change by letting ourselves be changed.”
Building on this idea, the more we allow others to influence us – the more we understand their needs, challenges, and objectives – the more we influence them. Why? Because by showing up differently, with genuine curiosity about the other person, we invite them to do the same. This invitation feels dramatically different to the recipient than the pressure of the self-focused “request” or “suggestion” (or however it was framed). It is much easier to respond positively to an invitation than a demand.
Here’s the catch: Even if we genuinely approach the other person with curiosity and openness, we cannot expect to influence them. As soon as that expectation enters the mix, we’ve become self-focused once again…and once again, the other person will sense that. So the challenge is to be open to the other person, hoping (perhaps) but not expecting they will be any different, ever.
How have you experienced this conundrum of being influenced and influencing? Please share your stories with us!