Changing Another Person LO19869

Richard Karash (
Mon, 16 Nov 1998 14:59:22 -0500

Replying to LO19866 --

There are two points here... 1) CAN we reliably change another person? and,
if so, 2) would it be ETHICAL to do so?

You wrote:

>Also, with all due respect to your argument from authority (Maturana),
>anyone who believes that it is not possible to
>>reliably determine what change will occur in
>>another human being as a result of their interaction
>has, in my opinion, no business being a teacher (nor a friend.) We can, of
>course, quibble about the word "reliably" -- but I would say that's not the

John, my apologies, an argument from authority is, of course, weak. I'm
hoping that this point gets expanded in subsequest msgs. And, by the way,
my roles as a teacher and friend are quite important to me.

The word "reliably" is important, as I see it. I know I can influence
another person, but I do not believe I can fully control the outcome. But
people go into interactions everyday with a mindset that they can
determine the outcome... and that the "subject" party is the only one who
will be affected.

I feel, on the contrary, that
- I cannot reliably determine what change will occur in another human
being as a result of our interaction
- and, the interaction will change me as well as them

As an example, consider the interaction in which you want to reliably
cause your teenager to be home at a certain hour. Most of the time, the
unsuccessful attempt changes your subsequent behavior more than the

>The point is that there are (a few) reliable principles of learning and
>psychology. Most of them derive from behavioral psychology (Skinnerian
>radical behaviorism) which was, whatever else people choose to say about
>it, the most scientifically vigorous and experimentally validated form of
>psychology we have yet to see. There are principles of reinforcement and
>extinction that can be relied upon to determine specific changes in
>another's behavior. They work!

I have not studied Skinner, and to be honest I carry a negative attitude.
Are the techniques practical in a business setting? Or just a lab
curiousity? And, if they worked, would they be ethical?

What does Skinner say about how what you would you do to cause your
teenager to be home at a certain hour?

> ...They are not disrespectful if they have
>the other's permission, and with that permission they enhance human
>freedom and dignity.

This is the point about which I have the biggest concern; I know "freedom
and dignity" are in the book title. Suppose you could use techniques to
reliably control the behavior of another. Even with permission, where does
that leave the other person? How do they have freedom and dignity? Haven't
you taken the responsibility? When you're gone, what happens to the other
person? How effective will the organization be in the future?

The theory that I've found most helpful is to design interactions that tend
to cause in the other person
- increased awareness
- increased sense of responsibility for outcomes

In my org learning work, we try to help people become more aware of what
they really want to create. Where this leads is something they determine.

-- Rick


Richard Karash ("Rick") | <> Speaker, Facilitator, Trainer | email: "Towards learning organizations" | Host for Learning-Org Discussion (617)227-0106, fax (617)523-3839 | <>

Learning-org -- Hosted by Rick Karash <> Public Dialog on Learning Organizations -- <>