Changing Another Person LO20060

Fred Nickols (
Wed, 02 Dec 1998 05:51:45 -0500

Replying to LO20040 --

Responding to no particular message in the thread, although this post was
occasioned by LO20040 --

It seems to me that the central point in the thread could benefit from a
little more attention to definition.

If by "changing another person" is meant altering that person's knowledge
base or belief system or value structure, then we're talking about changes
that occur as a result of teaching and learning, as well as some that
might be brought about as the result of advertising, propaganda and other
forms of "brainwashing."

If by "changing another person" is meant bringing about relatively
permanent changes in behavior, especially those patterned behaviors that
lead us to infer characteristics such as personality, style, and so on,
then we're talking about a very different set of changes even if some of
the tools and techniques used might be the same.

There are some obvious instances to which all might point but which are
deceptive. We can point to schooling as a case in point where a person's
knowledge base can be and is regularly changed through instruction. But
is it? Or is it the case that learning can be assisted by teaching but
not really caused? We can point also to experiments in group and
individual behavior and point to changes in behavior brought about via
group pressure and reinforcement schedules. But can we? That research is
regularly picked to pieces. The data are flawed or doctored, the design
was shaky, or the experiments weren't adequately controlled.

In the end, we each believe what we believe because we can in fact know
very little.

On my part, I believe that every human being is in absolute control of his
or her own behavior. That said, can someone put a gun to my head and
coerce me into doing something I wouldn't ordinarily do? Of course, but
in the last analysis I am the one doing the doing. Do I find myself in
certain settings from time to time where what I say is much more carefully
couched than is the case in other settings? Of course. Like all living
control systems, I adapt to my surroundings so as to maintain control over
those factors of importance to me. But being coerced and minding my P's
and Q's are fleeting, situational phenomena. Moreover, most human beings
in an organizational setting manipulate measurement systems more than they
are manipulated by them. The power of organizational reward systems is in
the main quite modest. (The power of those at the top of the organization
to devise reward systems that they then use to enrich themselves is truly

In any event, it seems to me that this thread could benefit from
clarifying what is meant by "changing another person."

By the way, the current HBR (Nov-Dec) carries a rather lengthy letter to
the editor by yours truly elaborating a bit on the notions above. Some of
you might find it interesting.



Fred Nickols Distance Consulting (609) 490-0095

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