Change Yourself First!

By Dr. Larry Pfaff

I was recently speaking with a woman about her "problem" daughter. "She just won't listen to anything I say," said the mother. "I can't get her to change." When I asked the mother what she had tried to do differently with her daughter, she replied, "Why should I do anything differently? She is the problem, not me. She is the one who needs to change!"

Just like this mother, sometimes we are faced with relationships, whether at work or in our personal life, where problems are occurring. Too often we all make the mistake of thinking that somehow we can get the other person to change how they act, without changing what we do. The first thing that we need to remember is that we cannot change what another person does.

What you must do is change yourself first! In the situation mentioned above, the mother cannot expect the daughter to act any differently, when she (the mother) continues to act the same way. Patterns have developed and they will continue. To expect the child to change on her own is unreasonable. The parent must change first by doing something different. Doing the same thing will get the same response it always has. And, doing something different requires that we look at our own behavior.

This applies equally well to the work situation. If an employee is responding negatively to supervision, one can expect the employee to continue to respond that way until something changes. And the changes that are necessary must be initiated by the manager, not the employee. Unfortunately, just like the parent, managers often don't see their own part in employee problems. They think it is all the "employee's fault." Taking that approach will only make the situation worse.

So, when you have an employee (or anyone else) who is responding negatively you need to ask yourself the question, "What could I do differently that might get this person to do what I want them to do?" It can go a long way to resolving conflicts of all kinds. Think about it the next time you have a relationship problem, it may help.

Please send any comments, questions or suggestions to Dr. Pfaff at

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