Getting People to Change

KokopelliIf creating the world we want means getting people to change what they currently do, how can we get people to change?

That’s a question we hear a lot when we tell people what we’re doing at Creating the Future. We share that we are building a movement for making visionary community results the norm in social change work, rather than the exception. And the standard response is, “That sounds great. But how will you get people to change their ways?”

Consultants and funders and people involved in capacity building work all seem to live with the same frustrations. How do we get people to change?

Here’s what we’ve found about “getting people to change.”

People will change their habits if they are inspired to change.

People won’t change because you tell them to. They won’t change because it’s best practice or because that’s what other groups are doing. They won’t change if you scare them into doing it (they may DO something differently, but they won’t change how they feel about it, which I can guarantee will rear its head somewhere else, when you least expect it…).

But people will move mountains if they are inspired to do so.

So if we want to change norms, change culture, change habits, the recipe is simple:

  1. Meet people where they are, with what they think they need.
  2. Open the window just a crack, so they can see what’s possible beyond their comfort zone. Create the environment that inspires them and gives them the confidence to take that small step.
  3. And for those early adopters who are absolutely ready to take huge leaps forward, provide the means for them to do so as well.

Think about your mission from the top down and from the bottom up. From the people who can’t wait to make massive changes, and the people who believe they just need a little tweak.

Whether it’s about eating one more helping of vegetables a day or changing food policy; about quitting smoking or banning smoking; about learning 3 new consulting tricks or transforming your practice…

How can you meet people where they are, with compassion and wisdom, and then inspire them to just take that next small step into what is possible?

7 thoughts on “Getting People to Change”

  1. I think it’s vital that we share our stories of how we are making the changes in our own lives as part of this process. It’s easy to find ourselves up on a high horse when attempting to influence others, but if we have compassion and empathy for their particular situation and beliefs about the world, we can more effectively inspire them to take the next small step toward changing things. This can ultimately create momentum toward bigger changes – change begets change. And, when others see us as learning and growing at the same time, we become more approachable – we lead and learn at the same time.

    At least, I think so. 🙂

  2. Oh yes, absolutely – and thank you for this, Brandon! That willingness to be vulnerable and to be ok with not being the expert in a world that is telling everyone they need to personally brand how amazing they are… I love this – thank you!

  3. I very much appreciate this post. Thank you! Meeting people where they are and inspiring them to action is THE answer. In my community I often hear organization leaders lamenting “where are the residents?” “where are the community leaders?” “why don’t they come to our important meetings?” These questions are often followed by attempts to guilt or shame people into participating, “if you care about your community you will come to the next meeting.” I think people glaze over and tune out when they feel guilted or accused. What if instead of expecting folks to come to us – we meet them where they are — by door knocking, showing up at the grocery store, church, day care centers or other places where we can be in contact with diverse community members? What if instead of meetings we had festivals, parties, events, jam sessions, movie nights, potlucks as the format for our community decision making?

  4. Hildy — It’s late and this missive inspires me. Thank you. My only comment would be to echo what others have said — that it’s so important to work inside out. I recently turned 47 and I think a lot about cultivating compassion for myself and others (in that order). I can apply the principles of change first to myself. But, as you have taught me, there is also faking it til you make it. When I feel annoyed — as I do almost every day — with someone in a consulting context, I can just act as if I feel compassion until I actually do. I know. “Pollyanna.” 🙂

  5. Great post, and I totally agree. I call this a “readiness assessment”–where you find common values, common concerns, and most importantaly perhaps, the desire to learn and try something new.

    It also goes to the concept of building local heroes. Elevate those who take the leap–support them quietly–and give them the credit for making (and often, for not blocking) change. Thanks.


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