Like most people, I’ve done my fair share of advising others to change and improve. Yet most of the time, my advising reaps no change. I used to think that perhaps it’s their problem that they can’t act on good advice when they hear it. But is it likely that every person I advise has that same problem? Or could it be that the problem is me and my inability to give advice in an effective way?
After listening to a lecture about advising others to change, I realized the problem was indeed me. Below are two useful stories from the lecture. The lecture is in Chinese, so I’ve done my best to translate.
Story 1: Wife Urges Husband Quit Smoking
Let’s say you want to advise your husband to quit smoking. How would you go about doing that?
There was a woman who often scolded her husband for smoking. They were at a restaurant with some friends. A friend offered the husband a cigarette. The wife immediately snatched the cigarette away. Is that an effective method? Of course not. The husband will feel disrespected, and the result will probably be the opposite of what we want. So when we advise others, we must focus on our intention. Our intention must not be controlling and our attitude must not be “You must listen to me or else.” Instead, we need to focus on their benefit and find appropriate opportunities to advise them.
There was another couple where the wife was urging her husband to quit smoking. She told her husband, “Look at our kid. He’s so small and cute. Thank you for supporting the family. Your health is our family’s treasure.” The husband felt appreciated and valued. It’s not just females that like listening to sweet talk; males appreciate it too.
This wife not only used a warm manner to urge her husband to quit smoking, she also gave him some methods. She told him, “Whenever you have the urge to smoke, start cracking open some sunflower seeds to eat. I got lots for you.” The husband tried it, but after a while, he couldn’t restrain himself and started smoking again. The wife’s first attempt failed.
The second time, the wife decided to not be frugal. She told her husband, “Whenever you have the urge to smoke, eat some chocolate. I got lots for you.” It worked for a while, but again, the husband eventually returned to smoking.
One day, a friend came over. He sat down and offered her husband a cigarette. If you were the wife, what would you do?
The wife quickly walked over and used a warm tone of voice and said to the friend, “Please forgive me, but I’ve been trying to help my husband quit smoking. I got him to eat sunflower seeds, and that worked for a while, but eventually stopped working. Then I got him to eat chocolate, and that worked for a while, but eventually stopped working. I already spent a lot of time and money in this effort, so please support me!”
If you were the friend, what would you do? So using a warm voice is most effective when advising others. How do you think her husband felt? Respected and valued. So when we advise others, we must focus on a proper intention, use a good method, and look for good opportunities.
Story 2: Brother Urges Younger Brother to Come Home Earlier
There were three brothers. The youngest brother loved to fool around, and he often came home past midnight. The eldest brother got very angry at the youngest, often scolding him loudly and fiercely. The youngest was already a young adult, so what effect did the scolding have? The more he got scolded, the later he came home each day.
When we see that the result is not what we want, we need to stop, reflect, and change our attitude and methods.
The middle brother saw this result and told the eldest, “Please let me try helping our younger brother. You can relax and leave it to me for the time being.”
From that day on, the middle brother waited by the front door every night for the youngest to come home. He’d watch the clock pass by 10:00PM, 11:00PM. When this happens, what must we do? We must endure and overcome our anger. Otherwise, you might start scolding the youngest as soon as you see him. So we must cultivate our patience.
The middle brother kept waiting, past 11:00PM, past 12:00AM, until finally, the youngest finally appeared. The middle brother immediately opened the front door, walked up to the youngest brother, and took his hand. The middle brother said, “The weather has been very cold. Are you warm enough?” as he took him into the house. He also said, “You must be hungry. I’ll go cook some noodles for you.”
The middle brother continued doing this for many weeks. Later, the youngest brother slowly started coming home earlier, until eventually, he came home at normal times. The middle brother kept encouraging him and giving him proper ideas about life so that his younger brother would have a bright future.
The middle brother was successful where the eldest was not because the middle brother used sincere care and led by example rather than just using speech. He earned his younger brother’s trust and fondness, which is why he was able to influence his younger brother.
If we really want to help others to change, we first have to communicate through our body language and tone of voice that we have their best intentions at heart. We must not make them feel like they are being disrespected, and we must not be arrogant, thinking we are better than them. When they feel that you’re on their team, and that you truly care for them, they will be willing to put in the effort to change for the team. The husband was willing to try his wife’s suggestions of sunflower seeds and chocolate because his wife earned his respect.
Second, we have to set a good example. The wife wanted the husband to care for the family by caring for his health. The wife set a good example by doing everything in her power for that goal: She bought sunflower seeds and chocolate, and she provided these methods to her husband so that it was less work for him. The middle brother wanted his younger brother to be more considerate of the family, so he set a good example first by being considerate of his younger brother. Only when we’ve set a good example do we have the credibility to advise others to do something.
Third, we need to be patient. We can’t think, “I already told you three times and you still don’t listen!” The middle brother persisted for weeks for the sake of his younger brother. We have to give people time to change gradually, at a pace that’s natural and comfortable for them.
Helping others change is like raising a flower. You have to give the seed daily love and nurture. Eventually, the plant will rise out of the soil and the flower will blossom.