Writings from Christine

7 Steps to Helping a Friend Change for the Better

by on October 7, 2018


After watching her best friend self-destruct yet again, Emily could no longer stay silent. Their 5-year friendship was on the verge of ending with Emily heading in a positive direction and her best friend destroying her life. Emily confronted her bestie a couple of months ago addressing the excessive drinking, illegal use of pain pills, and her rapidly deteriorating work ethic. But Emily was met with high resistance, so she backed off. Now, Emily was ready to try a different approach in hopes their friendship could last.

But what does that look like? How does a person change for the better? One of the roles of a friend is to encourage healthy change. In psychology, the concept of unconditional positive regard is regarded as an effective method of transformation. The basic principle lies in accepting and supporting a person without judgment regardless of what they say or do. This provides an environment of trust, understanding, and grace which allows a person to grow.

However, it is not easy to do and can be challenging to execute in a friendship. Often, it requires setting aside personal beliefs and preconceived notions while uncomfortably viewing things from the person’s perspective. It then requires acceptance, not judgment, and an honest desire to love regardless of the choices. This is very difficult to do. Yet, it is worth the effort as the person begins to relax and is more open to other perspectives. Here are seven ways to encourage positive change in another person:

  1. Compliment. Even small amounts of praise are effective. A person does not have to agree with every aspect of an issue to offer a few words of encouragement. The ratio should be about 5:1 on compliments to confrontations. Commending a person has a disarming effect and can turn a heated discussion into an opportunity for growth. Steer clear of criticism or judgment as that can turn the best of relationships into an adversarial position. This simple step is a good opening and closing to any confrontation as it eases the sting.
  2. Listen. Even if the story is known, it is best to listen to it being told by the person. What they say, how they say it, what details are included or left out are all clues as to their perspective on a situation. Listening involves paying attention to the manner of speech, body language, repeated phrases, and voice inflections. Effective listening cannot be accomplished by thinking about what should be said next. 100% of the attention must be put on the other person. Feeling heard changes people = it allows them to feel more present, reduces anxiety, allows for vulnerability, and generates intimacy.
  3. Forgive. Forgiveness is not about forgetting hurt, pain, or abuse. Instead, it is about releasing the hurt, anger, and bitterness associated with the event. Forgiveness is not for the benefit of the person who did something wrong; rather it is for the person who was wronged. Modeling forgiveness is the most effective way to teach it. Telling someone they need to forgive another person while harboring resentment towards others is ineffective and hypocritical.
  4. Learn. Studying a person’s behavior, personality, reactions, and responses is more effective when assumptions are put aside. Assuming the worst possible meaning from a behavior, phrase, or gesture puts people naturally at odds. This leads to a know-it-all attitude about the other person which does not foster positive change, rather it can lead things down a very negative path. Instead, ask questions, don’t assume.
  5. Hope. Reset expectations for the other person which are more in accord with their personality, behavior, and passions. This lays a good foundation for growth. It often means casting aside society’s opinions and seeing the value in the other person, regardless of their current behavior. Hope is a powerful force in change and expecting the best outcome resets attitudes and encourages a person to move forward. But there also must be a limit to hope as some people don’t want to change.
  6. Gratitude. Once again, gratitude is best taught by example. Telling someone they need to be grateful or thankful for what they have can be frustrating when times are difficult. Instead, model this by finding something appreciative about the other person. This sparks an attitude of thankfulness that can be infectious.
  7. Goals. This is last for a reason. Without first completing the other six steps, a person is not going to be receptive to setting goals for the future. But this is also the most critical step because, without ambitions, a person’s motivation dies. Goal setting should be encouraged, not forced, guided, not directed. A person won’t strive to accomplish an objective that they are not invested in.

Emily followed this guideline with her best friend and eventually she began to see real change. Even though it took a while, it was worth the effort, time, and energy. Some of these steps are going to be more challenging to put into the practical application than others. In the end, it is worth the effort but be prepared to be patient with everyone in the process.

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Posted under: abuse Friendships Writings from Christine

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