Coaching: Can You Change Someone Who Does Not Want to Change? Part I

Coaching is about facilitating positive change. What if your client does not want to change? How can you challenge them to change? What are some best practices to encourage changes in your clients or employees who resist change?

If you are like me, here are some strategies you probably used:

  • Motivate these people to care more about the goal or the benefits they personally will gain from achieving that goal – but what if they see no value or benefit in the needed change?
  • Bring forth some startling facts, which the person was previously ‘blind’ to – but what if the client/employee disputes them or assigns the responsibility for fixing them to someone else?
  • Build trust… practice patience, honesty and integrity – but what if the client/employee takes that effort to build trust and uses it to play power games and manipulate you and the situation?
  • Generate a small success and then showcase the resulting benefits to build the next step – but what if the client/employee manipulates the time together and makes it impossible to move forward?

Conventional wisdom and experience tells us that you cannot change someone who does not want to change, but is that really true?

Changing someone who doesn’t want to change is very difficult, almost impossible. For years the experience of trying to facilitate change in these cases felt like trying to pass an electric fence:  touch it or try to get through and you’ll be zapped.

The organization pushes coaching as a performance intervention on an individual. As a manager or coach, what should you do?

Terminating the coaching contract or discontinuing any effort to transform an employee offers the easiest solution. Many coaches walk away from people who don’t want to change. This is understandable because the alternative is a long and tedious journey and usually time isn’t exactly a plentiful resource.

There is another way, one that leads to breakthroughs in the most difficult cases in a matter of weeks and with very little time investment, but it will require accepting a new way of thinking about change.

Traditional coaching requires understanding and acceptance of shared reality as a starting point. Let’s say a client or employee sees everything only from her perspective? What if everyone else is complaining about her, but she thinks everyone else is the problem? How easy will it be to get her to agree to this starting point? People who don’t want to change don’t want to admit they are broken, so if you take the traditional coaching route, isn’t that the first thing you need to establish? If so, you are killing the success of the change before you even started!

Generally speaking, people don’t change because they are lacking effective response patterns.

  • Acquiring Effectiveness Response Patterns: Some individuals/teams really want to make the changes that will lead to desired outcomes, but for some reason they are unable to identify which steps are needed  in order to achieve their goals. A great example is someone who is fully aware and desirous of changing his time management choices or priorities in life. These cases require new effectiveness response patterns: a map that will identify for them what the right choices and priorities are. Give this group knowledge and they will integrate it into their lives.
  • Acquiring Sustainability Response Patterns: Think of someone trying to change eating habits, but is unable to sustain the new behaviors required. This group may have conflicting goals (“I want to eat well and lose weight vs. I also want to enjoy that cake”) or it may simply lack response patterns that are patterns that lead to accountability and sustainability. Traditional coaching helps tremendously here because it “outsources” accountability and sustainability for the client/employee.
  • Acquiring New Resistance Response Patterns: Many clients and employees resist change well. A client or an employee is included in this category if they are manipulative, are not willing to own their part and are generally unwilling to change. Traditional coaching will hardly ever work here because coaching requires agreement, and these cases stand out for being unyielding. Individuals and teams in this group will resist changing in any way possible every step of the way.

Look at people who don’t want to change as individuals or team who are lacking certain abilities. If they somehow acquired those abilities (more about that “somehow” next week) they would see the situation differently. However, because they are stuck, they don’t want to be coached.

To complete this post, read this. It outlines the experience of a fantastic manager who, despite her best efforts and despite using the best practices available to her at the time, could not support the transformation of one of her employees. See what a difference it makes to use the right tool for working with people who don’t want to change.

Next week:  Part II


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