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The Question I Am Often Asked (and the Answer)

The question I am often asked is: How do I get so-and-so to ___?  In practice, it might sound like…

  • How do I get my boss to stop micromanaging me?

  • How do I get my employee to have a better attitude?

  • How do I get my [insert family member] to listen? 

  • How do I make someone ____?

I’ve asked similar questions of myself: How do I get a client to shift their perspective? Or, how can I get them to take action? What I've learned is that questions like these are a red flag that I’m approaching something from an unproductive perspective.


These questions presume that a) I know what is best for other people and the path to get it, which is arrogant; and b) If I just say the right words or use the right tool, I have the power to control them, which is also arrogant. 


The truth is that we don’t control what other people think, feel or do.


While our job descriptions may say that we are responsible for our team and results, we do not have control over them. We can convey expectations, communicate clearly about what we need, set priorities and wave consequences at them, but unless we’re resorting to coercion or violence, we do not have control over them. 


Even when we have authority over them, we can’t “get” them to do something that they don’t know how to do, for which there are no consequences they care about, are afraid to do, or that isn’t part of their DNA. 


This doesn’t mean we are helpless or that the person/situation will never change. It does mean we have to understand what we control and what we don’t. That’s the not-so-secret sauce to all of our challenges: We must be the change. The only thing we have control over is ourselves: what we choose to think; how we choose to act.


By changing how we perceive things, we inevitably shift how we approach people and problems, which can create a different response in others. 


We have so much more power than we think we do; we tend not to use it. 


When we ask the question, “How do I get someone else to change?” we give away our power. By defining the problem as the other person, we lose our ability to do anything about it. They are the problem; therefore, they have to change. So then we may find ourselves focusing on how to make them change or get them to change.


Trying to control things we don't actually have control over creates anxiety, potentially, quite a bit of it. What if, instead, we focused on what we do have control over: What we think, feel and how we act.


We can start by asking ourselves different questions, like:

  • Who do I want to BE (e.g., character traits) in this situation?

  • What assumptions am I making about the situation, the other party or myself?

  • How are these assumptions influencing who I am being?

  • What do I have control over?


Be the change. It’s the only thing we have control over.


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