In my “Dealing with Difficult People” class, at the opening of the class, I say there is just one important thing I want my students to take away from the class – that they can’t change other people.
Realizing that we can’t change others and mold them to fit our own values is both freeing and useful.
It’s freeing, because it helps us stop wasting time and energy on an empty pursuit. It’s useful, because it lets us shift our focus into ways we can actually influence other people. At times we can observe people changing their reactions to us in response to a change we make in our own behavior and our reactions to them. But changing ourselves in order to make them react differently to us is not the same as trying to change them.
Most of us find it very hard to “live and let live.” We have a deep need to “fix” others. Usually, this is because we don’t feel very good about ourselves – we haven’t been able to master the art of self-acceptance. If I feel that I am not okay, but I am then able to point out how really not okay you are, then I must be better than you!
We as humans have this need to tear others down in order to build ourselves up. But this need leads to communication problems and to difficulty in our relationships. If our goal is to communicate better, it would be really helpful for us to start seeing people as they are, to let them be, and to stop trying to change them.
Once we accept others, we can listen to them carefully, and find a deeper level of understanding of the person, their needs, style and values. If we respect their style and their values, often we can approach them in a manner that is familiar and “matching” to them. This can open communication because it creates a sense of trust that in turn makes much easier for them to react positively to us. We actually allow understanding to flow both ways.
It’s simple, really: if you want a better relationship, YOU are the one that needs to change. Don’t worry: you don’t have to change your values – but you do need to change your communication style, to be willing to mirror other people’s behavioral style, and to accept that their values are just as valid as yours. And, most importantly, you need to stop trying to convince others you are right, and they are wrong.
Once you’ll master the art of accepting others, you’ll begin to see positive changes in the responses and reactions you get from them. It’s quite simple, really: the best way to get others to accept you and to listen to you is to accept them and listen to them.