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The Best Way to Ask Someone to Change

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Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD - Blogs
By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhDPsychologistJuly 18, 2018
From the WebMD Archives

Is someone in your life doing the same upsetting thing to you over and over again? You have talked to them about it multiple times – you’ve asked, demanded, even nagged for a change – but the behavior just continues. So what do you? When it’s clear that pointing out the negative effects of someone’s behavior isn’t prompting change, consider trying a more positive approach.

Aesop’s fable of the wind and the sun offers a wonderful illustration for how best to approach getting someone to do something. While the sun and the wind were arguing about who was stronger, they saw a man walking down a country path. They decided to settle their bet with the challenge of seeing which one of them could make the traveller take off his coat more quickly. The sun hid behind a cloud so that the wind could go first. The wind blew and blew, but the man only held tighter to his coat. Finally, the wind gave up in despair. Then the sun came out from behind the cloud and shone down on the man. The man looked up, smiled, and relaxed his shoulders. Soon he took off his coat.

Though it may seem paradoxical, warmth and gentleness can be a source of great strength. Using this moral, you can try to persuade your friend to change by being warm and making a kind request.

Being warm means truly listening, having empathy, and offering compassion when your friend is telling you something. People often feel better just by having someone validate their feelings.

You might feel resistant to validating someone’s feelings if you disagree with them or think they are overreacting. However, it’s important to understand that you can be empathic and supportive while disagreeing with them. So, for instance, you might be angry with a friend for always talking about herself, never asking about what’s going on for you. Still, you can empathize with her situation and be supportive. Then you can move onto the next step…

Making a kind request involves asking for what you want without being demanding. Explain how doing what you ask for will affect you and your relationship. You might say to your friend that while you are happy to listen to her struggles, you would also like her to listen to what is going on with you. Explain that you will feel better about your relationship and will be more patient with her if she does this.

The warm and gentle approach works best in relationships when there is enough positive regard between both of you that it supports wanting the relationship to be better. The other person will feel like you are working with them. Rather than feeling defensive, they will be more likely respond to your warm, kind request with wanting to change.

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About the Author
Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

Dr. Becker-Phelps is a licensed psychologist in NJ and NY, and is on staff at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, Somerset. She is dedicated to helping people understand themselves and what they need to do to become emotionally and psychologically healthy. She accomplishes this through her work as a psychotherapist, speaker and writer. She is the author of Bouncing Back from Rejection and Insecure in Love.

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