Influence versus Force: Which Works Better to Encourage Change?

How many times have you interacted with someone who you deemed difficult and wished you could somehow encourage change in the person? Maybe it was a co-worker, a family member, or even a child. It’s natural to want others to change and be more agreeable or friendly or even more like us. But is it possible to make people change?

Many people try to encourage change in others by using force. Depending on the relationship, they may use dominance to initiate the change (as in an employer/employee relationship). Or they may use nagging and criticizing (as in a family relationship). Or they may use coercion, bribing, or punishment (as in a parent/child relationship). However, they quickly learn that none of these approaches works for real, long-term change. This leads to stress for everyone involved.

Realize that while you can control others using force to gain some short-term compliance, you cannot CHANGE them. Once you understand and accept this fact, your stress will be greatly reduced and you will gain a perspective that brings about true change.

Here’s an example of what I mean: Former U.S. President Dwight David Eisenhower served as the commanding officer of the United Nations forces during WWII. During that effort, “Ike,” as he was referred to, worked with a variety of different personalities from various countries. His definition of leadership is worth remembering: Leadership is the art of getting people to do something you want done because they want to do it.

Ike demonstrated this aphorism by taking a piece of yarn and then pushing it. The front of the yarn did not move. Then he pulled the piece of yarn from the front, and the rest of the yarn followed.

The same approach holds true with anyone when you’d like to encourage change in some way. Stop pushing, reduce your stress, and become more effective. Learn the skill of asking reflective questions to get people thinking in terms of the direction you want them to go.

Tip: You can encourage change in others when you use influence rather than force. When you implement the art of reflective questions—as well as many of the other strategies revealed on this website—you will be amazed at how simple and effective you will be to have others do what YOU want them to do because they WANT to do it.