I was working on a project with a work colleague the other day, and I found myself wishing she were different. We had different styles about how we approached deadlines. I wanted to get the project done pretty far ahead of time, so that I wouldn’t be stressed out as the deadline approached. She had a lot of other things going on, and actually felt more energized as the deadline approached. I wanted her to change to be more like me.
Around the same time, I was talking with a friend who was dating someone he really liked. Most everything was going well, except there were a few things about her that he wished would change. He wanted her to be more sophisticated, and he wished that they could connect more often on a deeper emotional level. It was a similar deal—he hoped that as time passed, she would change those things and become more like him.
One thing I have been learning recently is that people have a limited capacity to change, especially on things such as their personality or tendencies. If a person is quiet, chances are they aren’t going to make a big shift and become extroverted. If a person is uptight, it’s likely they won’t make a big switch and become open to new experiences. If a person has a tendency to be anxious, it’s unlikely they are going to make a big change and become relaxed.
Even when people are very motivated to change, such as in counseling, people usually only change a small amount. Maybe a 10% shift.
When you are in relationship with someone, whether it is a family member, friend, work colleague, or dating partner, it’s not a great strategy to try to get that person to change. It’s unlikely to be successful, and you probably will end up getting frustrated, both with that person and yourself.
Instead, a better strategy is to accept the person as they are, and see if there is a creative way to get your needs met in that relationship. For example, in my relationship with my work colleague, can I accept that she does deadlines differently than me? Is there a way we can work together that can accommodate both personalities? In the case of my friend, can he accept his dating partner as is? Can he accept their differences? Might there be a way that he can get his relationship needs met in spite of their differences?
These kinds of questions are likely to result in a more workable solution and more effective relationship than trying to change the other person.
Discussion: Do you find yourself trying to change the people around you? How is this working for you? What is one step you could take toward accepting the people around you as they are?