Tag Archives: relationship

Training cats, changing people and other pointless exercises

My clients frequently ask me how to change someone else; an employee, a partner or even their boss.  Unfortunately, you can’t change other people.  It simply can’t be done.  People will only change if they want to change.  They have to want it and want to change more than whatever rewards they are currently getting.

We have a hard enough time trying to change ourselves.  Only 8% of people are successful in achieving their own New Year’s resolution.  It takes most people seven or more attempts to change something about themselves like losing weight or stopping smoking.  Those activities are pretty easy to see and, therefore, are easier to change.  Trying to change something that is more subtle, for example being too negative, is even harder.  If we fail so consistently at changing ourselves, imagine how difficult it is to attempt to change other people.

Attempting to change someone is like attempting to train a cat.  Cats don’t train well.  Cats do want they want and why they want it.  My kids do watch a show, My Cat From Hell, on the Animal Planet.  It stars Jackson Galaxy, a self described cat-behaviorist.  Each episode Jackson goes into two households with completely out of control cats and in two or three visits, he completely trains these cats.  When you study what Jackson does though, he doesn’t train the cat.  He modifies the cat’s environment to encourage the cat to want to change.

Let’s examine what Jackson actually does with the cats.  He follows a pretty consistent technique and gets results nearly every time.

1.) De-stress the environment – The first thing Jackson does if find ways to make the cat less stressed.  Stress causes poor decision making in both cats and people.  Jackson de-stresses the environment by adding kitty little boxes, blocking views of neighborhood cats and adding places where the cat feels protected and safe.  Additionally, Jackson will include outlets for the cat.

2.) Improve communication – Then Jackson teaches the owners how to communicate with the cat.  With cats, communication is largely about body language.

3.) Create routines – For example, play with the cat and then feed the cat.  Routines provide a level of predictability.

4.) Change the payoff – Jackson also provide treats and other rewards for positive behavior.  He also removes incentives for negative behaviors.  The change in the reward system helps make the cat want to do positive behaviors.

While you can’t change your employee or partner, you can use a lot of Jackson’s technique to get different outcomes.  You can not change someone.  You can, however, change the environment and reward system to get different outcomes.