For the vast majority of us living in the Western world, there are typically a few instances throughout the course of our hectic days when the behavior of another irritates, angers, concerns or saddens us. While it’s usually quite easy to circumvent and bypass the unfamiliar strangers who push our buttons, which allows us to suppress our undesirable emotional responses, we typically have no choice but to avoid our significant others, family members, siblings, or closest friends after they act in vexing ways. Even worse, as we allow bothersome feelings to build up inside while assuming there’s no logical way to handle their problematic behavior, we often resort to lashing out with regrettable insults.
Although we hope our harsh rhetoric will lead to the behavioral changes we wish to see in the ones we hold nearest to our hearts, rarely, if ever, does this approach produce the desired result? In fact, more often than not, our verbal assaults have the opposite effect and stir up reciprocal feelings of animosity, in the victims of our aggression, that is directed back toward us. Fortunately, however, if we develop an understanding of empathy and focus on our own behavior, we can alter our communication strategies in a way that encourages the changes we wish to see in others. The late great spiritual teacher and author Wayne Dyer so adequately reminds us:
Never underestimate your power to change yourself; never overestimate your power to change others.”
Unknowingly Communicating From A Limited Subjective Perspective:
When really considering the ways in which we deal with the undesirable behaviors of others, it becomes clear to see how our communication strategies often cause more harm than good. Regardless of whether it’s a significant other stuck in a rut, a child acting up in school or a friend struggling with addiction, our most natural approach to dealing with their problems rarely results in the outcomes we desire. While we can usually come to recognize the ineffectiveness of our appeal, this alone doesn’t help us understand why our heartfelt advice isn’t getting through.
The truth is that although each and every situation is different, and may call for a specific set of definitive actions, the problem with our attempts to change others most often results from us unknowingly communicating from a perspective that’s limited by our subjectivity. It’s because each and every one of us systematically develops our own individualized worldview, which is based upon our own unique set of predispositions and life experiences, that our narrow-minded approach to elicit change in others rarely accomplishes the goal.
It’s certain that until we stop trying to impose our views and ideals on the ones we hope to change, and instead focus on their equally valid thoughts, feelings, and beliefs, we’ll remain unable to encourage their behavioral transformation. Celebrated author Don Miguel Ruiz tells us:
Nothing other people do is because of you. it is because of themselves. All people live in their own dream, in their own mind; they are in a completely different world from the one we live in. When we take something personally we make the assumption that they know what is in our world, and we try to impose our world on their world.”
The Power of Empathetic Communication:
Ever since the iconic American psychologist Daniel Goleman released his international bestseller Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ in 1995, relationship experts have increasingly talked about the power of empathy. Whereas our most instinctual communication strategy is centered around our own feelings, thoughts, and beliefs alone, practicing empathy affords us the opportunity to step outside of ourselves and into the shoes of another. In addition to helping us make more meaningful connections, empathetic communication can help us determine the steps we should take to encourage life-affirming changes in others.
If there are instances when we really want to see our significant others, children and friends positively transform their lives, it’s imperative that we understand where they’re coming from. This means that instead of judging and demeaning them for both behaving in ways we deem inappropriate and not acting upon our heartfelt advice, we must step outside of ourselves and look at things from their perspective. By doing so, we’ll be able to alter our communicative strategies so that we’re able to produce the desired result. The immortalized French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery cleverly told of this truth when he wrote:
You want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather, teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
Using Empathy To Encourage Others To Change:
To effectively promote the behavioral changes we’d like to see in others, it’s vital to understand the problems that are created by communicating from a narrow-minded perspective. If we’re going to get our partner out of the rut, improve our child’s behavior in school or help our friend get clean and sober, we must focus our efforts on communicating empathetically and transforming ourselves first. Moreover, it’s important to point out that instead of criticizing, condemning, and belittling them, we’ll be much better off if our message is delivered in an encouraging and supportive manner.
If you aren’t happy with the way people are responding to your heartfelt pleas for them to change, you shouldn’t steadfastly point to their behavior as the problem but instead, continue to change your approach until you find the actions that lead them towards transforming themselves. By empathetically looking at the situation from their point-of-view and considering how you’re message may be perceived, both with the intention of finding the steps you can take to lead them to change, it’s certain that each of us can find ways to encourage our loved ones to positively transform their lives. The celebrated American author Patricia Polacco reminds us:
You were born with the power to change others. You chane them by the way you treat them. That is what changes the human heart.”