Saturday, April 13, 2013

Should You Try to Change Someone?

We all get frustrated with people and thus are tempted to try to change them.

Unfortunately, the odds are poor of being successful in doing so. Much of who we are is hard-wired or the result of early experiences.

Even shrinks, spending years with patients, have a hard time fundamentally changing them. Patients are usually satisfied with tweaks around the edges and learning to accept their basic selves for who they are.

If therapists, highly trained at that sort of thing, find it difficult to fundamentally change people, is it not hubristic of us as bosses, co-workers, romantic partners, and friends to think we can?

I am reminded of a study that looked at 92 couples on the brink of divorce. They were assigned at random to one of two types of relationship counseling. One group's therapists tried to get the people to change. The other group's therapists tried to get them to accept each other as they are. Six months later, most of the couples in the "change each other" group had filed for divorce. Most of those in the "accept each other" group chose to stay together.

So next time, you think about trying to change someone, think twice. Examples: 

If you're a boss with a supervisee that frustrates you, after a brief attempt to try to improve them, you may be wise to get them transferred or to let them go, offering to help them find a better-suited position. 

Try to focus on your romantic partner's good qualities and accept that their bad ones are unlikely to fundamentally change in the near future. If that's not acceptable to you, after a brief attempt at remediating the person (and yourself?) it may be wise to cut your losses. 

By the way, that's one of the many hidden liabilities of having children: you can't cut and run. 

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