The Employers' Association

The Employers’ Association (TEA) is a not-for-profit employers’ association, formed in 1939, with offices in Grand Rapids serving the West Michigan employer community. We help more than 600 member companies maximize employee productivity and minimize employer liability through human resources and management advice, training, survey data, and consulting services.

TEA is in the business of helping people. This blog is intended to address human issues, concerns and the things that impact people - be they self-perpetuated or externally imposed. Feel free to respond to the thoughts presented here, for without each other, we are nothing!

Friday, January 15, 2016

HOW DO PEOPLE CHANGE?


We often seek to understand people by observing what they do then try to determine what causes them to act in a particular way RATHER THAN trying to establish why they continue to act the way they do.  People invariably act in ways that provide them comfort, security, an escape, protection, or some other perceived benefit.  If we truly want to share a mutually beneficial relationship with and better understand people, we should focus on why they CONTINUE to act in a certain manner – determining what the personal benefit is for them to act that way – rather than trying to determine what happened to make them act that way in the first place.  Shifting one’s paradigm a bit from the cause of behavior to the reason it is maintained will help us understand why people do the things they do – and how to better influence behavior when it needs to be changed.

Since so many of our interactions with people are driven by emotions (rather than hard, documentable facts or results), we should acknowledge several factors that must be addressed prior to helping someone change their behavior:

YOU CANNOT CHANGE PEOPLE – THEY MUST CHANGE THEMSELVES.  No matter how hard you try, or how influential you may be, you cannot alter the way another thinks, acts or behaves JUST BECAUSE you think your way is better.  Until someone recognizes that there is a reason to change – that their present reality is not necessarily the way they want the future to be – they will not alter their behavior.  It is better to seek ways to maximize the positive that someone can offer than to try to alter the negative until they can be convinced there is a reason to change. 

THE REWARD FOR CHANGE MUST BE GREATER THAN THAT PROVIDED BY STAYING THE SAME.  People do the things they do because they like (or accept) the results of their actions.  If you want someone to change their behavior, you must provide a greater benefit for their changing than they would have received without alteration.  Many people break the speed limit because they feel their risk of “being caught” are relatively small compared to the time they gain by going fast.  Once ticketed, most slow down (at least temporarily) because the pain of compliance is greater than the gain their behavior created. 

COMFORT IS THE BIGGEST INHIBITOR OF CHANGE.   INTRODUCE AN UNDESIRABLE DISRUPTION INTO A COMFORTABLE LIFESTYLE IF IMMEDIATE TRANSFORMATION IS WANTED.  Why do New Year’s Resolutions rarely come to fruition?  Typically people seek to exorcise the “biggest elephant in the room” when setting New Year’s Resolutions.  They identify the one thing that has eluded them all year – if not their whole life – and decide to eliminate it from their innate behavior patterns overnight.   After a day or two of intentional change, most individuals fall back into their daily routine – to their comfortable patterns – often abandoning the desire to change because it is not critical to their lifestyle.  I was hesitant to change jobs once NOT because I received continual challenge and opportunity from my work but rather because I was comfortable doing what needed to be completed, liked my peers, and had gained respect and credibility from my workforce.  I was not actively seeking to change employers UNTIL I realized the organization I worked for might cease to exist in a year or two.  A disruption of my comfortable lifestyle initiated a life-changing transition – but not until I recognized that the risk of leaving was less disruptive (and much more controlled) than the alternative of staying.

All people can change should they choose to – and all will change if they are properly motivated.  As you work with people (or even try better to understand yourself), focus on what value current acts or actions provide AND on how that value can be increased should a different path be followed rather than on trying to change your actions or acts to “something different” without knowing where you might wish to land or what you intend to accomplish.


When one begins a journey having no destination in mind, he or she will never be lost along the way (because they do not know where they wished to land).  One may never experience personal failure when doing ONLY what has been specified, directed or dictated by another BUT they will never taste individual success.  One may be at peace when finding comfort and safety within their present reality BUT may be disappointed should they ever question “what could have been” rather than accepting “what is” as all that could ever be.  People CAN and DO change but all we can hope to be is the INITIATOR of change in others – they must seek alternatives and follow-through with actions in order to accomplish transition.  We can, however, be the originator and implementer of change within ourselves if we hold onto what we have just long enough to become committed to what we seek until we can realize what might be possible (rather than accepting what is).