Even for experienced coaches and therapists, it’s not easy to help a person change when it’s someone close to you, because you’re emotionally involved yourself.
If they’re stuck with a belief system that they know is holding them back, but they just can’t let go of by themselves, there are some things you can say just in conversation that may help them at least loosen up the belief system a bit.
Here are ten suggestions. Naturally it’s up to you to decide which is the right one to say and when to say it, but if you really listen to the person (rather than taking your attention inside to think about what you’re going to say next) you’ll find yourself saying the right thing at the right time.
- Avoid asking “Why?” unless you want more justifications, defenses, denial or reasons to go on acting the way they do. “Why?” is not great as a question to change someone’s behaviour because you never know what kind of answer you’re going to get.
- There is a case where “Why?” is useful, which is if you are trying to uncover the roots of the belief system. Asking “Why do you believe that?” (probably with appropriate softeners around it) will often uncover a belief that the ‘surface’ belief, the one they are consciously aware of, is built on. Some of the beliefs that limit us are based ultimately on other beliefs installed in early childhood, that we may not be consciously aware of and haven’t tested against evidence for years.
- When people do become aware of a limiting belief like that, often it just vanishes as it’s something that their adult self wouldn’t believe. It doesn’t survive contact with the world as they see it now. Fritz Perls said “Awareness is itself curative”.
- Agree with them when they tell you why they can’t do whatever it is they want to do, but agree so much that it becomes ridiculous. The aim is to get them to laugh about the problem, which is a sign that they are seeing it in a different perspective.
- Get them into a different mood by whatever means necessary before you attempt to get them to change their minds or see things differently. The traditional Anglo-Saxon means of argument or debate is pretty much designed to make people more entrenched in their position rather than changing their mind.
- If there’s something that they’re saying they can’t do (e.g. say “no” to having some more work foisted on them) ask them “What would happen if you did?” This might help uncover whatever unstated awful consequences they think might happen, which probably won’t seem so bad once they articulate it.
- Ask “If you had a good friend who as in the same position and they said that to you, what would you advise them to do?” – or “What would you suggest to help them?” or similar.
- Ask “What is it about <their situation or the problem as they articulate it> that makes it difficult?” The aim is to help them to get more specific about exactly what the problem is for them, to make it less vague and more manageable.
- If there is another person involved in creating the problem (e.g. a manager that takes advantage of them), ask them themselves in that other person’s shoes. How do they look from that other person’s perspective? What does that other person believe about them? The more they can ‘get into character’ as the other person, the more useful the answers will be to them.
- Simplest of all – ask them “What do you want?” or “What do you want to happen?”
Very often, a solution will be found outside the problem rather than through trying to analyse it. If the problem was simple enough to be solved by constantly ruminating over its causes, they would have solved it themselves by now. Instead, questions like these direct their attention towards possible solutions.
To deepen your understanding of useful language patterns and questions and how they work, why not get my e-book Practical NLP 2: Language – How to use presuppositions, chunking, the Meta Model and the Milton Model in practice? It sets out all of the above and many other useful patterns and questioning techniques in a systematic and easily understandable way, so you can start communicating with more understanding and precision straight away.
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