Change Anything QA

Helping Your Child with Addiction

Dear Crucial Skills,

Our twenty-year-old son has unfortunately been using prescription drugs for some time now. He came to me and my wife for help, and we immediately placed him in a well respected center for a twenty-one-day medical detoxification and rehab program. He went willingly and seemed to learn quite a bit about the entire rehab process, and what was required of him in the near future. Although he got clean, we suspect he is still not equipped with the skills to stay that way. We would like to apply the model in Change Anything to help him stay clean and live a happy, productive life. Here are our questions: Do we apply the model in a certain sequence or all at once? Are there sources of influence that need to come before or after another source? Should he help construct activities within each source or should we create them before we present anything to him? What are some known best practices when applying the model to this problem?

Anxious to Start

Dear Anxious,

As parents, family members, and friends, how we long to help those we love. I have found over the years that knowing how to help, and even defining what love means in these situations can be difficult. So I applaud you for your help and love to date, and for your questions about how to help and love in the future. Needless to say, situations like the one you are facing are complex and with the few details I have and more that I’ll assume, I may miss the mark on some parts, but I hope that as I address your questions a few principles or tactics will be useful.

Before I get to some answers, I’ll provide context for readers who are not as familiar with the Change Anything approach as you are. When someone wants to change his or her behavior (and thus the results he or she is getting), often this person fails because he or she is blind and outnumbered. That means that there are more influences encouraging bad behavior than there are influences that encourage good behavior. The fact that you helped your son find professional help is noteworthy. And your suspicion that he is not well-equipped to deal with challenges now that he is home is spot on. Let me explain. Like everyone who goes to a program, he was a subject. At good programs, all Six Sources of Influence™ are applied to helping the clients do the effective behaviors. Again, for those unfamiliar with the Six Sources of Influence, a little side track here. At the rehab center:

Source 1: Personal Motivation—Your son gets in touch with the reasons why doing drugs is dangerous and why being clean will bring happiness and success.

Source 2: Personal Ability—Your son learns new skills like saying no, overcoming urges, and so on.

Sources 3 and 4: Social Motivation and Ability—Your son is not surrounded by accomplices, partiers, or pushers, but by cheerleaders, caregivers, and coaches.

Source 5: Structural Motivation—Your son gets rewards for small wins: gold stars and other incentives.

Source 6: Structural Ability—The environment is controlled to make the good behaviors easy and the bad behaviors impossible.

The big point I’d like to emphasize here is this: many programs are effective when the client is the subject. They influence the subject in powerful ways, but they don’t always equip the clients to be their own agents when they go home. Clients often remain blind to the skills and strategies that helped them succeed while in rehab. So when they get home, they can’t see the influences that will cause relapse. They haven’t been equipped to be their own scientist or agent. How do you help him see and use enough influence so that he can control his own behavior at home?

So now to your questions:

Do we apply the model in a certain sequence or all at once?
Yes and no. The first step in the model is to diagnose. Why is your son behaving like he is? What caused his problem? What and who is helping or hindering? What are the times or conditions when your son is most tempted to take drugs? These are “crucial moments” and will help you identify and determine a plan to achieve the desired results. Focus on the vital behaviors and the sources of influence he needs to add and eliminate to make positive change much more probable. So, first diagnose his current behavior and that will lead to a specific, customized plan.

Are there sources of influence that need to come before or after another source?
Your son will need different sources of influence to change his behavior than someone else’s son or daughter would. Customization is important. What specific influences are helping, hurting, or missing altogether? Identify them first and then design strategies to turn those influences in his favor. By doing so, you’ll marshal enough influence that your son can change for good. Marshaling enough influence simultaneously—not sequentially—is key.

Should he help construct activities within each source or should we create them before we present anything to him?
Your son should lead this process, so he knows that he is the capable captain of his own ship, not just a passenger along for a ride on a larger vessel. You can be the guide on the side. There are two goals here. One is to create a plan so that he stays clean. The second is to have a process that motivates and enables him to be his own agent.

What are some known best practices when applying the model to this problem?
This question requires more space than I have. I will say that we tried very hard to identify best practices in Change Anything: The New Science of Personal Success. The chapter entitled “Addiction: How to Take Back Your Life” is our best shot.

I’ll end where I started. Bless your hearts for helping and loving your son to this point. I hope that the suggestions I’ve offered will assist you in aiding him to be his own agent and, on his own, do the behaviors that will help him live a happy and productive life.

Best Wishes,


Crucial Conversations QA

How to Say A Different Kind of No

Dear Crucial Skills,

At work, many times we have to say no to internal customer requests because they aren’t priorities or because we aren’t the people who can help them. The problem is that our staff has learned to say no too well and it’s becoming a negative experience for our internal customers. What ideas do you have for saying no without turning off our internal customers?

Dr. No

Dear Dr. No,

What auspicious timing. I’ve been thinking about this very topic because of a recent experience I had in the Philadelphia Airport. Having just finished working with a group of remarkable leaders from Southeast Asia, I was in a pretty perky mood when I approached the reservation agent to check in. I offered a cheery “Hello!” to the agent, who simply stared at me in response. At first I assumed she might be deep in thought on some other topic, so I said a bit louder, “Good afternoon!” She cocked her head to the side, closed and opened her eyes slowly, and said, “I heard you. What do you want?” Apparently her day wasn’t going as well as mine.

I told her my destination, handed her my ID, and then asked, “Is my flight on time?” To which she answered . . . drum roll . . . “No.” I thought I saw a slight smile creep up her face.

Now, the information she provided me was highly accurate. So why did I feel less than grateful for her highly accurate information? It wasn’t the no that hurt, it was the story I told myself about the no.

When you tell people no, there are two problems you can create; the first is disappointment. The second, disrespect. The first says, “The world isn’t going to work the way you hoped it would.” The second says, “And I don’t really care!”

While you may occasionally need to create the first problem, you need never create the second. In fact, the first one feels less vexing if delivered by someone who assiduously avoids the second.

Here are some things to keep in mind when delivering a no.

Find a way to say yes. Even if you can’t do everything the customers want, show you care by finding a way to mitigate the disappointment. For example, if you try to make a reservation at one of Danny Meyer’s highly popular New York restaurants, there’s a 90 percent chance the time and date you want won’t be available. Reservation agents, therefore, always come up with a yes they can add to their no. “I’m so sorry, Mr. Grenny, that time doesn’t work at the Union Square Café, but I can get you in at Gramercy Tavern. Or, perhaps I could move your time back two hours and then I can find you a table at Union Square…” When delivering bad news, show you care by proposing alternatives: different times, smaller requirements, other resources the customer can use, etc.

Help, don’t scold. It sounds as though part of your problem is that people make requests of your team that don’t fit your scope or role. Of course, it would be highly inefficient and a misuse of your scarce resources to say yes when your duties are in another direction. In this case, you can still show you care by not just saying, “We don’t do that,” but actually taking the customer’s hand to guide them to the place that does. For example, while on the same trip to Philadelphia I stayed at a wonderful Ritz Carlton hotel. In the morning, I donned my exercise clothes and rode the elevator to the lobby then looked around confusedly for the Fitness Center. A housekeeper noticed my lost look. Rather than simply saying, “It’s not here, doofus,” she said, “Follow me.” She walked me to the elevator, called for an elevator car, then pushed the appropriate button and wished me a good workout.

Manage the story. An unexplained no feels much different from a no with a reason. For example, when the reservation agent said no, I realize now that I instinctively searched her face to see whether she cared. Perhaps the smile I thought I saw didn’t really happen. But you and I are hard wired to assess the motives of people we interact with. When we enter a room, a significant amount of cognitive processing power is spent scanning the room for social, emotional, or physical threats. Evolutionary biologists suggest that this automatic behavior is highly adaptive. When someone tells us no, our brains kick into assessment mode to determine whether this person is celebrating our disappointment (meaning they are a potential threat) or is sympathetic with it. All you need do to communicate the latter and avoid the former is offer a small explanation. There is a seven-second difference between “The movie is sold out” and “I’m sorry, we just sold the last ticket. A large group of senior citizens came in a bus to this showing.” But the two feel much different.

I’m impressed that you are aware of the need to offer a different kind of no. It speaks to your concern for your customers and desire to serve.

Best Wishes,


Kerrying On

Kerrying On: A Holiday Gift for the Children

Kerry Patterson

Kerry Patterson is coauthor of four New York Times bestsellers, Crucial Conversations, Crucial Accountability, Influencer, and Change Anything.


Kerrying On

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The following article was first published on December 15, 2010.

Thirty years ago, after landing my first consulting job, I could hardly wait to get started. For years, I had studied how to change the world and now it was my turn to roll up my sleeves and actually do something. The goal of this particular project was to take an adversarial, punitive, and authoritarian corporate culture and turn it into a productive, team-oriented place. At least, that’s what the plant manager requested.

“And I want it soon!” the agitated manager told me over the phone. “Or heads are going to roll.”

As I drove to the airport on my way to the anxious manager’s factory, I couldn’t help but notice a bumper sticker sported by several of my neighbors. The popular sticker stated rather immodestly, “Irvine: Another Day in Paradise.” Several hours later, as I exited the Wayne County Airport on my way to visit the client, I noticed Detroit’s version of the home-town promotional slogan on a sweatshirt: “Detroit: Where the Weak Are Killed . . . and Eaten.”

Later that day, as I interviewed hourly employees, I got my first glimpse into the rather un-paradise-like nature of the company I was supposed to help fashion into a paragon of cooperation. When I asked the question “If you ran this place, what changes would you make?” the employees immediately started ridiculing their leaders. At one point, they told of a supervisor throwing a heavy ashtray through a plate-glass window and then chopping up a breaker box with a fire ax—you know, to get his team’s attention. Later, during that same interview, a rather animated employee explained that the ashtray-hurling supervisor’s direct reports eventually grew tired of his shenanigans and one Friday afternoon chased him out to his car. When he climbed on top of it for safety, they lit the car on fire!

Then things turned from scary to complicated. As I interviewed a group of supervisors from whence this ashtray thrower came, they (much to my surprise) seemed reasonable and rational—nothing like the slavering maniacs their direct reports had just described. In fact, they appeared rather pleasant. The supervisors did share one thing in common with their direct reports. They had a bone to pick with their own bosses, the superintendents who, in their words, were authoritarian monsters. Of course, when I met the superintendents, they seemed quite professional, and—you guessed it—they pretty much loathed their bosses, the managers.

As it turns out, everyone at this rather frightening factory blamed everyone else for their problems and everyone—based upon the unprofessional actions of their bosses—felt justified in their own counterproductive behaviors. Why? Because everyone deserved whatever you gave them. And this wasn’t a problem unique to this particular factory, city, or region. As my career has unfolded, I’ve run into similarly violent and reactive places all around the country.

Not everyone lights cars on fire, of course, but the idea of dealing back what you’ve been dealt is still widely shared. It seems one of the values reflected in today’s video games, TV shows, and movies has left its mark. All encourage revenge. For instance, the longest running TV show of my generation, started with the “bad guy” riding into town, getting off his horse, spitting on a nun, and pistol-whipping a schoolmarm. Then, for a full 55 minutes, the good guys sought revenge on that pistol-toting bad guy, who, as we all knew, deserved whatever he got. And to this day, this same troublesome theme continues on the screen.

I recently mentioned our seemingly insatiable thirst for revenge to my next-door neighbor and he chuckled softly and stated, “I have the same problem with my own children. They’ll be in the middle of a squabble, I’ll ask one of them what’s going on, and my oldest son will invariably come back with, ‘It all started when he hit me back!'”

“It all started when he hit me back!” What a clever encapsulation of a contemporary malaise. As long as others mistreat us, we can mistreat them right back. Because, well, they deserve it.

I’ve thought about this issue for quite some time, and as many of you know, it permeates our writing. For example, the principle of working on ourselves first from Crucial Conversations suggests we need to think less about exacting revenge on others and more about our own style under stress. Equally true, maybe we shouldn’t mirror the very behavior we loathe. Transforming others into villains and viewing ourselves as heroes also fuels the fires of getting even. In short, in both our training and books we teach that responding to violence with violence is a bad thing, and I believe we’ve made some progress. In fact, in that first factory where a supervisor wielded an ax, leaders learned to effectively handle high-stakes, emotional conversations, and over the next two years violence decreased significantly.

Today, I hope to take this message to a new audience: children. Actually, I’m hoping you’ll pass the message along for me. I know, asking a favor deviates quite a bit from your standard business newsletter, and writing something for children—why that’s virtually unheard of. But it’s my hope that if we can set kids on the right path while they’re still young, they’ll be better prepared for the unrelenting stream of invitations to violence that will most assuredly assault them as they turn on their TVs, play their video games, go to movies, and eventually show up at work.

So, with the children in mind, and in the spirit of the holiday season, I’ve written a rather Seussian children’s tale that I hope you’ll share with the young ones in your world. It’s not about mistletoe, snowmen, and the like, but apropos to the season of love and tranquility, it shares a message of peace—the kind of peace one creates through a healthy and loving response to how others treat us, even when they’re being naughty, not nice. For this holiday, I plan on reading it aloud to my grandchildren. You might consider doing the same.

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