How to Change Someone Else's Behavior

Three Methods:Discussing the Problem with the PersonAccepting a Potential Lack of ChangeHeling to Alter the Behavior

Whether you want your girlfriend to respond to your text messages more quickly or want your friend to stop chewing with her mouth open, you will find that changing another person’s behavior is really hard. It is definitely not an impossible task, but there are only certain behaviors you can try to change about other people. Ultimately, though, you can only make changes to yourself that will hopefully positively affect the people around you.

Method 1
Discussing the Problem with the Person

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    Identify the behavior. Pinpoint the exact behavior that you want to change about the person. If you want the person to just “be less annoying” or “text me more often,” you will not get the results you want. Pinpoint the exact behavior you want to change and mark exactly how you want it to change.
    • For example, rather than saying that you want your friend to “be less annoying,” plan to say that you want your friend to “stop interrupting conversations she’s not a part of.”
    • Or, instead of wanting your partner to “text you more often,” you could want your partner to “text you good morning and goodnight every day.”
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    Determine if the person is open to changing that behavior. Ultimately, you cannot force anyone to change. You can only change things about yourself. This idea applies both to you and to the person you’re trying to change. See if the person wants to change and believes that he has the capacity to change.[1] Don’t actively ask the person if he is open to change; instead, try to figure out if there’s a possibility that the person wants to change.
    • In some situations, it might be appropriate to ask that person’s friends and loved ones what they know about this behavior and what the person has done to change it. If the person has tried to quit smoking several times before, he might be open to trying again with a different approach. If the person has tried, he at least at one point believed he was open to change.
    • You can also pay attention to what the person says about the topic and life in general. If the person says fixed statements like “I’ll be fat forever,” or, “I guess I’m just not a smart person,” the person may not think that he can change.
    • If the person does want to change or is at least open to the possibility of change, you might be able to help him change his behavior.
    • However, if the person does not want to change, you might not be able to do anything about the problem at this point.
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    Tell the person that the behavior bothers you. The person may not realize the extent to which her behavior upsets you. Choose a time to talk when you are calm, have enough time to have a long conversation, and have thought about what you want to say. Do not raise your voice or yell at the person.
    • Make your feelings about the behavior very clear to the person. For example, say: “When you are late, I feel like I am not a priority to you, and that hurts my feelings.”
    • Give specific examples. “When you were late meeting me last week, you made us both late to the Bon Jovi concert and we missed the first song. I was really mad about that because I love Bon Jovi and those tickets were expensive.”
    • Ask for what you do want instead. For example, say: “Next time you’re going to be late, could you please call me and let me know?”
    • Once you've made your wishes clear, back off and do not belabor the point. Nagging her if she already knows what's wrong is unlikely to have a positive outcome.

Method 2
Accepting a Potential Lack of Change

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    Know what you can control. You can change certain things about yourself, such as what you say, how you say it, and how you act. When you try to change someone else, you are changing something about yourself in an attempt to incite change in that person.
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    Accept that you cannot change some things. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, someone will not change. Again, it is important to note that you cannot force anyone to change if the person doesn't want to. You can say things to try to affect change within that person, but you are an agent of change, not the change itself. No matter how many times you tell your friend to tie his shoelaces, he does not have to tie his shoelaces.[2]
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    Decide if you can accept the person if this behavior does not change. Get comfortable with the possibility that the person may never change, because it's quite possible that he will not. How would it feel to simply live with the behavior? Is it possible you could change your own behavior and attitude to accommodate the person? Or are there ways to work around it? Ask yourself if you can accept the person as he is. If you cannot accept the behavior, then you may need to end the relationship.
    • If you can live with this behavior, try to avoid situations in which it might arise. For example, if you hate when your friend sings in the car, avoid long road trips or listen to music that he doesn't know.
    • Consider whether there are any ways to work around the behavior. Would it work to simply tell the person a time to meet you that is a half-hour earlier than necessary? Is there something that could be purchased that would solve the problem, for example, if your complaint is that the person will not clean the litter box like he promised, can you buy a self-cleaning one? While these don't address larger problems (such as the person not following through with his promises), but they may help you accept the person as he is.
    • If you cannot live with this behavior, you may need to cut off contact with this person. If your boyfriend’s drug problems are out of control, for instance, and you think that living with him will be extremely detrimental to your own health, you should consider breaking up with him and cutting off contact. It can be painful, but, if the behavior is greatly impeding your life, you owe it to yourself to consider your own health and happiness.

Method 3
Heling to Alter the Behavior

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    Give the person information about the behavior that will encourage her to change it. Even if the person knows that you do not like her behavior, your own distaste for the behavior might not be enough to make her want to change it. To attempt to change her mind about changing the behavior, try giving her information about the habit that makes it seem undesirable or worth changing.[3]
    • For example, you could try saying, “Joanie, I don’t know if you know this, but smoking can be really harmful and lead to lung cancer. My uncle was a lifelong smoker went through chemotherapy for lung cancer last year, and it was really hard for my family to see him through that painful time in his life.”
    • If you have been suffering in silence, or trying to drop subtle hints, these few steps may solve the problem entirely. Often, information alone is not enough to change a behavior; however, information combined with your opinion as a trusted acquaintance, friend, or family member might be enough to convince a person to attempt to change.
    • Once you've made your wishes clear, back off and do not belabor the point. Nagging the person if she already knows what's wrong is unlikely to have a positive outcome.
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    Increase the person’s awareness of the negative behavior. The person might not even realize that he is doing this behavior and therefore might be open to changing it. For example, it might drive you crazy when your friend chews with his mouth open, but if he's done this his entire life, he might not notice that he’s doing it. Remind the person gently what he is doing and how he could stop. Be polite.[4]
    • For example, you could say, “Ed, Could you please chew with your mouth closed? The chewing noise bothers me.”
    • Be nice, especially if the person is unaware. You should not say, “Ed, you’re chewing like a cow. Cut it out!”
    • This strategy will only work if the person is doing the behavior essentially by accident. If you want your mom to stop smoking and you make her aware that she’s smoking every time that she smokes, your strategy will probably be ineffective.
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    Give positive feedback. Positive feedback is better at the beginning of a person’s process of change because it encourages the person to feel more committed to her goal. It also improves your relationship with that person.[5]
    • For example, if you are trying to get your friend to come to the gym with you more frequently, you should, in the beginning of the process, say something along the lines of, “I know you would be great at this spin class, because you were great at kickboxing last week. I would have more fun if you came with me. Let’s go on Tuesday!”
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    Reward good behavior. If the person you’re trying to change does the behavior you want him to do (or stops the behavior you dislike), reward him! If your husband doesn’t smoke for a week, take him to do something he loves, like bowling or golf.[6] Be an encouraging force, rather than a negative force, in the person’s life when he does something right.
    • Praise good behavior using lavish, enthusiastic praise in whatever form the person understands best. Physical affection if appropriate, kind words, gifts, doing things for the person, etc. Connect the good behavior to you being thrilled with him and his life being better as a result.
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    Make good behaviors easier than bad behaviors. Changing behavior is not about conquering temptations. If your friend is trying to lose weight, do not take her out for ice cream on Friday night. If you’re trying to get your wife to be on time, be sure to give her an ample amount of time to get from her work to date night.[7]
    • For example, if your best friend is a recovering alcoholic, do not have her birthday party at a bar or a dance club, where there is likely to be a huge amount of temptation to drink. Instead, bring her somewhere where there is less temptation, such as pottery painting or bowling.
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    Offer a support network to the person. The effectiveness of this technique depends on the behavior you want to change. For something like quitting smoking, losing weight, or dealing with addiction, these groups can help the person stay motivated and engaged socially in achieving his goals.[8]
    • Even for smaller behavioral changes, such as helping your brother spend less money, recruit his close friends and your family members to help with the goal in little ways. If they are aware of the goal of the behavior change, they will support him.
    • If the person whose behavior you want to change has a drug or alcohol problem, he also might find it helpful to go to a support group, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, where other people in the group are going through the same thing.


  • It’s easier to help change the behavior of someone with whom you have a positive relationship. Try not to be too negative! As the saying goes, “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”


  • Be careful of nagging. Nagging almost never works and often makes the person feel attacked.
  • Some behaviors cannot be changed. It is difficult for people to change, and they might not want to change certain things about themselves.
  • Just because you believe a behavior should be changed does not mean that the person will want to or try to execute that change in behavior.
  • Dangerous behaviors that threaten your safety are another matter. You must get out of the relationship immediately, and stay out.

Article Info

Categories: Managing Conflict and Difficult Interactions | Relationships