Signs the Other Person Needs to Change (Not You)

Often, when you adjust your behavior, others change in response to your kindness. But sometimes, nothing you do matters. Learn to recognize signs the other person needs to change.

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During the Christmas season, I enjoy looking at catalogs, particularly those selling t-shirts with funny sayings.

One of my new favorites reads “I’m perfect. You adjust.”

Just contemplating those words makes me feel better, and somewhat redeemed. So often, I feel like I need to adjust my behavior to accommodate everyone else.

I’ve written about how changing behavior and thinking can provide fresher, clearer perspective, and lead to improved relationships (plus better equip us for bigger and more exciting challenges). I still believe that changing ourselves is too often overlooked as a solution to many problems. When Jesus said “take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5), He distilled this truth into one simple statement. So, I will continue to use this approach of looking to myself first before expecting others to change.

But sometimes, the problem isn’t me (or you). It really is the other person.

Whether minor tweaks or major transformations, in some situations, the adjustments we make have negligible impact on improving a bad situation or restoring a relationship.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about times when my best interpersonal efforts have failed. These may be interactions involving casual acquaintances, business relationships, or contacts within institutions, such as schools, agencies, and groups within these organizations.

Characteristics of those who persist in making your life difficult, no matter what

Based on what I have seen, here are some of the characteristics of those who should change but seem unwilling or unable to make adjustments:

  • stubborn with resolve that blocks out differing perspectives or useful outside input
  • deceitful and manipulative, only willing to adapt superficially
  • controlling with inability to acknowledge that others could offer valuable insights
  • defensive with fear of honesty that may involve having to admit past mistakes
  • resistant to change because of perceived risk of failing in new roles or endeavors
  • routine- and rules-following who sees little benefit to changing
  • capable of changing but with distinct blind spots on certain topics

First, I will acknowledge that I have acted in at one or more these ways in the past.

By recognizing these stances, I can more readily deal with them in myself and others. So, I might redouble my efforts to reach a mutual understanding that leads to change. I may try to create the right environment for a healthy exchange: show respect; listen carefully; alter my perspective to understand the other person’s point of view; make changes on my part; and offer encouragement.

Behaviors of those who refuse to change to accommodate normal interactions

Still, in some situations, I feel like the perpetually hopeful Charlie Brown, raring to kick the football, only to have Lucy snatch the ball away at the last minute, again. Instead of honest dialogue, encounters result in the other person acting something like this:

  • refuse to fulfill a responsibility
  • stick to a view because it worked in the past despite pain in the present
  • acknowledge problems but indicate a lack of commitment or follow-through in subsequent actions
  • question the legitimacy of others’ concerns and seem to question the right to express concerns
  • go through the motions of superficial change, rather than seek true understanding and resolution of underlying problems
  • dismiss the possibility of a practical solution, even when given a viable plan
  • remain resolute in refusing to make adjustments

No amount of reasoned discussion, thoughtful conversation, impassioned argument, or shrewd negotiation changes anything. I may have adjusted but the other person is stuck.

Trying isn’t fruitless, though it seems that way. My persuasive voice may not seem to register but can still have an unseen impact, possibly preventing a situation from worsening or inspiring someone to change quietly and slowly unnoticed until things are eventually different. But even if nothing happens, I’ve had my say, done my part, and lived up to my convictions. From this moment forward, any improvement in a relationship or situation is in the hands of the other person.

Recognizing when to stop trying and when to head in a different direction is difficult. But becoming the person who has the courage to walk away from a bad situation can be transforming. Moving from being misunderstood, ignored, or disrespected to new circumstances and relationships where you are valued, treated respectfully, and heard can give you a fresh, clearer, and dramatically better view of yourself.

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