Partnering for Change

As a coach, one of my favorite questions in leadership, conflict, or offering help and guidance is, “Do you want to feel better (or have a different result)?” If the answer is no, then we’re likely done with our work together for the moment,  and at least we don’t have to waste time struggling or pretending. I’ve learned not to judge this answer. It’s everyone’s right to not want to change or maybe to not be ready to change right now.

However, if the answer is yes, then my next question is usually, “How badly and why?” This now opens up all kinds of options, creative thinking, exploration, and leveraging of resources, but someone has to want things to be different for their own reasons, and I have found that they have to want it badly, more than the pain of staying where they currently are. If they do, they have a good chance of weathering the currents of the change that will be required.

I recently listened to a podcast interview with someone who had gotten sober after years of a serious addiction to alcohol. When asked how he did it, he quoted an early mentor and sponsor who told him, “If you want to get sober, anything I say to you will be right. If you don’t really want to get sober, everything I say to you will be wrong.” The pain of staying where we are has to be greater than the pain of the change to something different, or we just won’t do it.

This is important for all of us but especially for leaders and managers who want their people to do things differently. We often think that if we just present the data, reasons, or evidence or if we threaten, cajole, or influence someone in just the right way, they will adopt the change we want, but it just doesn’t work this way in my experience.

I’ve found that the first place to go is whether they would like a different result:  Do they want someone off their back about a non-negotiable standard (like being on time to work), more respect, more opportunities, more money, more fun, more ease, more friendship and love, more excitement, more anything? If they do, then we can talk about how badly they want it and why. THIS is the foundation of a healthy discussion about change that has a reasonable chance of success. Without this, it’s just us wanting something they have no connection to, control over, or desire for.

And it’s not just for our conversations with other people.  It works the same for the conversations we have with ourselves.  We say we want to be healthier, slimmer, stronger, but do we? How badly do we want it and why? If we can answer those questions, we have a much better chance of not resenting, resisting, and sabotaging the steps we must take to achieve what we want.

This week, think about something you’d like to be different for yourself or others.  Consider before you have the conversation about what they or you should do, that maybe you should answer, “What do you want? How badly? And, why?”

I believe you’ll find an entirely different and more successful conversation may occur.

“He convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still.”

~ Dale Carnegie


  1. I LOVE this! I always have this conversation with myself, but I need to start doing the same with conversations with my team members. Thank you.

    1. Me too, Tiffany! I really love and love use this principle… not always perfectly but it’s so helpful in having healthy conversations. So glad you liked it. Thanks for commenting!

  2. I think this has been your best advice ever! Simple and on target. Often we just want to be “right” to make ourselves feel better even though this feeling will not change the result.

    1. Wow, Larry… thanks for such great praise from such a longtime subscriber and friend! And I couldn’t agree more with your assessment of our need to be “right”… just doesn’t produce the result we always want. Thanks for a taking a minute to comment today. It means a lot to me.

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