On Changing Others

In a u.lab “office hours” session earlier today, a few participants asked a question that I’ve heard variations of many times: how do I get people who are stubborn, closed-minded, or who don’t share my views to open up?

I understand the impulse. But we need to think about this differently.

First, it’s not possible to change another person. You might coerce or persuade them. But ultimately, each person makes a choice whether to change or not.

More to the point, while Theory U is a social technology for opening up, it’s an approach based in deep listening. If you feel someone in your life is stubborn or closed-minded, try to understand what deeply matters to them. Work on suspending your own judgment. Inquire into what they believe and why. Notice whether you can do this with an open mind and open heart.

To be sure, closed-mindedness, which can breed fear, ignorance, and hatred is a serious problem in the world today. Look no further than the refugee crisis. As journalist Patrick Kingsley writes in his excellent book The New Odyssey, “In a way, the refugee crisis is something of a misnomer. There is a crisis, but it’s one caused largely by our response to the refugees, rather than by the refugees themselves.”

There is a time for confrontation and conflict with people whose views may need to be questioned. But our job as Theory U practitioners, as I heard Otto say recently, is to be literate on multiple levels of responding, to respond and act as the situation requires of us, and not to be stuck in just one way of operating.