You Can’t Change People, but You Can Influence Them

Many of us try, unsuccessfully, to change people. Whether we want our partner to be more loving or our kids to be more responsible, we waste precious time trying to force the other person to change. The fact is that, no matter how hard you try, you simply cannot change another person.

Does this mean that people will never change? That the way someone is now is how they’ll be for the rest of their life? Of course not. But change does not happen by you forcing it. Rather, people often change based on your expectations for them. So in a sense, the way you change people is to influence them to want to make a change on their own.

A Story About Change

One of my favorite stories that illustrates this concept involves a banker and a beggar. As the story goes, every day the banker passed by the beggar, he’d drop a coin in the man’s cup. Unlike most people, the banker would insist on getting one of the pencils the beggar had with him. The banker would say, “You are a merchant, and I always expect to receive good value from the merchants with whom I do business.”

That daily routine went on for some time. But one day the street beggar was gone. Time passed, and the banker forgot about him.

Years later the banker walked by a little store. Inside, he saw the former beggar, who was now a shopkeeper. The shopkeeper saw the banker and said, “I always hoped you might come by someday. You are largely responsible for my being here. You kept telling me I was a merchant. I started to think of myself that way, instead of as a beggar looking for handouts. I started selling pencils, lots of them. And today I have a little business. You showed me self-respect. You influenced me to look at myself differently.”

Don’t Change People, Influence People

You influence people the same way you mine for gold. When you go into a gold mine, you expect to remove tons of dirt to find an ounce of gold. But you don’t go into the mine looking for the dirt; you go in there looking for the gold. We need to do the same with the people in our life. We need to look for the gold in everyone and focus on that.

Tip: While you can’t forcefully change people, you do have the power to influence people to change. Interact with others in a positive way that shows your belief in them. That’s the best way to influence change in others.