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How to Change Others

Have you ever tried to change other people? What’s your success rate?

Like most people, I’ve done my fair share of advising others to change and improve. Yet most of the time, my advising reaps no change. I used to think that perhaps it’s their problem that they can’t act on good advice when they hear it. But is it likely that every person I advise has that same problem? Or could it be that the problem is me and my inability to give advice in an effective way?

Once I learned about the three traits of effective leaders, I realized I definitely did not do a good job advising others. According to those three traits, to change other people, we need to

1. Lead by example – you can only ask of others what you already do

2. Show genuine care – they should feel that you have their best intentions at heart

3. Teach/coach them – people can’t do what they don’t know

Those three traits are necessary for getting people to do something (leading them). But changing people means getting them do something differently from before, which is even harder. I would add two more principles:

4. Provide encouragement, not criticism – people need positive energy

5. Be patient – change takes time

Notice that these five principles are all focused on YOU, not the other person. Whether or not they change is ultimately in their power. However, whether or not YOU do the best job as an advisor is within your power. If you want to maximize our chances of success, then following these five principles is essential.

A Personal Example

I wanted to change a family member and have her complain less. Before, I told her she complains too much and criticizes others too much. It didn’t help.

1: Lead by Example

Later, I realized that I need to start by leading by example. If I want her to have a humble and considerate attitude, then I have to SHOW that kind of attitude to her. If I complain about her complaining, then I’m showing a bad example, and I have no right to ask her to stop complaining. I had to change myself to respond to her complaints with open-mindedness and empathy. When you try to make that change yourself, you also develop more empathy for the other person because you realize it’s not easy to change.

2: Show Genuine Care

In order to show genuine care, I did nice things like cook food that she likes and take initiative to do chores. These little but unrelated things to the topic communicate that I have good intentions at heart, so if I tell her to change something, it’s not because I want to criticize her but because I want to help. That evidence has to come from previous actions.

3: Teach/Coach Them

Eventually, she realized by herself that she indeed has a problem of complaining about others. A big contributor to this realization is that we watched video lectures on a book called Di Zi Gui together. In that book, it talks about how if we see the faults of others, we ought to reflect back on ourselves to see if we have that fault. Furthermore, we should praise other people’s good points and not broadcast their bad points. When this message came from a teacher instead of from me, she was able to listen without defensiveness.

4: Provide Encouragement, Not Criticism

In the past, I would complain about her complaining. That’s providing criticism. It doesn’t help. Later, I changed to praising her when she showed empathy for others. That encouraged her to keep doing it. If she complained, I didn't say anything. Later, she'd often realize on her own.

5: Be Patient

In the past, I would get annoyed when people don’t change after the first time I told them something. Now I realize that’s really naïve and unrealistic. People have built up habits over long periods of time, and so it takes a long time for them to unlearn old habits and learn new habits.

If we can accept them who they are right now in their journey, then we won’t feel the urge to change them here and now. Instead, we can patiently encourage them at every stage along their journey. Just like how we appreciate every stage of change when autumn leaves turn color, we can appreciate every stage of change that people are on.

A Workplace Example

Imagine you are the principal of a school. Due to COVID-19, schools had to move classes online. A lot of teachers are not familiar with making online lessons and teaching online classes. There are lots of teachers who are resistant to the change to online classes. They wish that this is just a quick temporary situation, and that normal classes will resume soon. However, you know that online classes might very likely last for a long time, and you want to help them adapt to the change. How can you do that?

1: Lead by Example

First, you have to lead by example by having the attitude that you hope your followers to have. If you want your school teachers to view the change positively, you have to be positive about the change. You also have to communicate why the adapting quickly to the change is extremely important for them, for the students, and for the school.

2: Show Genuine Care

Second, you have to show through your words and actions that you have their best interests at heart. You can talk to teachers one-on-one. Listen to their concerns. Explain their concerns to them to verify your understanding. Let them feel that they’ve been heard. After people feel like you understand them, then they will be open to listening to your ideas and listening to logic.

3: Teach/Coach Them

Once they’ve emotionally accepted the change and logically understand the importance of learning the online system, then they are open to learning the new system.

4: Provide Encouragement not Criticism

A common complaint in the workplace is “You can do 100 right and no one notices, but if you do 1 thing wrong, the boss complains.” That kind of environment is highly discouraging. To help employees change, we need to provide a supportive environment.

Different people learn at different paces. Praise the people who are adapting well and point to them as good role models that others can ask for advice from.

5: Be Patient

We can’t expect people to change overnight. By having patience, we can continue to provide encouraging and warm energy to them, which will keep their motivation and energy levels up.


Most of us have urged others to change out of good intentions. But when we don’t know HOW to urge others, we can end up hurting the relationship and making things worse. This article explained five principles for changing others:

  1. Lead by example

  2. Show genuine care

  3. Teach/coach them

  4. Provide encouragement not criticism

  5. Be patient

This article also went over two examples. Here are a couple more stories that illustrate how to change others effectively:

Changing others is not easy, and most of the result is not even within our control. However, when we follow these five principles, we maximize the chances for success and build a happy relationship along the way.

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