If your car started making a funny noise, would you just give it a good scrub? No, you’d deal with the cause. We get this right with our vehicles and wrong with our humans. But, most of us aren’t quick to pop the hood on the cause of our problems. We might be willing to change, but we don’t want to BE changed. So how do you get to the cause when someone you love does something you hate?
Don’t try this at home
Just open Twitter and you will see endless examples of what we believe our opinions can do for others. “If I can just help him see what I see, then he will see better.” Let me say this differently to show how ridiculous it sounds: “If I can just get her to wear my glasses, then I will correct her vision.” If you think better information alone will build better people, think again. During the 1930s, the Germans were more educated than most. Real change takes more than info. Knowledge alone usually doesn’t get all the way in. We grow and change when we are moved at the level of desire. We change from the inside out.
So what to do when someone you love keeps doing things you hate? Ask yourself the following questions.
Have you earned the right to be heard?
Work on the relationship, not on the person. Improve the lines of communication, not the art of persuasion. Certainly if someone you love is running towards a cliff you block their path. But more often, we need to love people enough to let them make their own mistakes. A thorn of experience is worth a wilderness of warning. Stay connected. Improve the connection. Then opportunities for influence will come. Imagine someone in your life standing by you without judgment as you faced consequences of your bad judgment. Your trust in them would soar. That’s how you earn the right to be heard.
Love or power?
When my children were younger, I remember cheering them on as they took their first steps. Stumbles drew no rebuke. It was easy to celebrate efforts and empathize with bruises. As children grow and consequences rise, parents forget to be cheerleaders. I’m a big believer in accountability, but, correction sounds better coming from the bench on the sidelines rather than the bench in a courtroom.
We must ask ourselves: What motivates me more: changing someone or helping someone change? Is this about them or me? Is this about a behavior that I hate or about the heart I love? Is this about my power to move people or the power they need to grow?
Help or heroics?
Perhaps your efforts are about genuine concern, not power. But will your helping hurt? Even with someone’s best interest in mind, you might be over-functioning. You might steal responsibility from a person who needs more of it, not less. Unaware, you might be playing the hero, not the helper.
Greek mathematician Archemedes said: “Give me a lever big enough and I can move the world.” Frustration or fears over people we care about can drive us to keep looking for a bigger lever. We tend to choose expediency rather than empowerment. Instead, you need to put away your stopwatch. When find someone who is lost five miles into the woods, you can expect to walk five miles back out.
Will I risk the pain of influence?
Most people are inspired when they witness a fully-grown, accomplished person continuing to grow. We like that in others, but are we willing ourselves? It is painful to admit faults and even more painful to admit a faulty pattern or direction. We can try to make private improvements, but real influence comes when we are willing to let people see us as a work in progress, to see the before and after.
The greatest influence we have over the people doing things we hate is to let them see us own our own stuff. That gets noticed. And when it’s not intended as an indirect message, then it speaks the truth in love. That kind of influence might get under the hood.