Crucial Skills®

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Crucial Conversations for Accountability

How to “Nudge” Your Partner to Change

Dear Crucial Skills,

How can I nudge my partner to start using some GTD® skills?

Losing Patience

Dear Losing Patience,

Consider what nudging looks like in practice. To verbally nudge someone is to volley hints or suggestions but without directly addressing the issue or revealing how much you care about it. A nudge may get someone to wash the dishes, finish that report, or do a back handspring, but it’s not likely to change behavior.

It may help you to think of nudging in the physical sense. Physically, a nudge may be less aggressive than a shove or a push, but it’s more aggressive than an invitation or a helping hand. It implies prodding or pricking, which imply leading from behind. And leading from behind is an oxymoron. To lead, you must be in the lead. The only sustainable way to move another along—into GTD, healthy communication, handwashing, or any other behavior for which you’re an advocate—is to bring them along.

Here are a few ideas. I share them on the assumption that you’ve already extended a friendly invitation that hasn’t been received.

Set the Example

If you want to lead someone into new behavior, you should be a living example of that behavior. Aristotle wrote, “Character may almost be called the most effective means of persuasion.”

Character may not only be the most effective means of persuasion, it may be your only means. If in the end you fail to persuade your partner into adopting GTD skills, your example will continue to influence. You don’t have to be a perfect example, but it should be clear by your living, not just your talking, that your moral compass encompasses the behaviors you advocate.

Foster Respect

For this conversation to go well, you’ll need to convey respect, and to convey respect you must feel respect.

Even with a partner or a spouse, it’s easy to lose sight of respect in the face of disagreement or irritation. Here’s what I do to regain my sense of respect when I’ve lost it.

First, recognize that the problem is your problem. Even if your partner’s behavior is leading to negative outcomes, you must acknowledge that if you have a problem with his or her behavior, it’s your problem. When we recognize that the problems we have with others are, in fact, our problems, we switch from trying to change the other person to trying to communicate why we find the behavior problematic, which is far more effective. This is largely how I think of Master My Stories.

Second, recognize the other person’s autonomy. If you approach the conversation with a do-or-die mindset, you’ll provoke resistance and get frustrated. Don’t raise the issue until you’re at peace with the fact that your partner is an autonomous agent and may choose contrary to your wishes.

Third, identify why the new behavior matters to your partner’s wellbeing and growth. Easing your irritation, for example, is not a compelling cause. Wider social consequences or personal values, however, are great motivators. So, is your partner’s lack of GTD skills affecting the kids, friends, family, their wellbeing? Sharing this information will help you not only convey respect but also care and concern. I think this is the essence of Start with Heart.

Be Bold as Love

When you feel you are ready to speak respectfully, speak directly. No nudging needed. Convey your respect and intent, then point out a few of the problems arising in your partner’s life, your life, or the lives of others because of your partner’s behaviors. If you’ve done the internal work, your feedback should come across as courageous concern, not coercive criticism.

Over the years I have developed my own scripts for preparing someone for feedback based on the skills taught in Crucial Conversations, and they look something like this:

“What I’m about to say may feel confrontational. Please know that I’m speaking up because I respect you enough to be honest with you, and because I care about you and our work.”

Then say the hard things.

With those who can be sensitive to feedback, I have said something like this:

“I know this may be hard to hear, but I want you to know I’m telling you this because I care. We can’t always see our own shortcomings and mistakes, and we all depend on feedback from each other to become better versions ourselves. That’s how we grow. And this is only my perspective—you’re free to disagree. I only ask that you thoughtfully consider it.”

Then say the hard things.

I have watched defensiveness dissolve in seconds with the sincere expression of respect and concern. Reflect on these principles and examples and come up with your own approach.

Keep the Dialogue Going

After you’ve shared your perspective, ask your partner, “How do you see it?” Then listen. And be open to a later discussion. Feedback, no matter how well it’s delivered, often takes time to process (learn more in this article). Wherever the conversation goes, make it clear to your partner you respect them and ongoing dialogue more than getting your way. If your partner responds to the feedback, it will be evident with curiosity and questions. You’ll now have a partner receptive to suggestions. Share why you think the GTD skills can help.

Find Joy in Their Strengths

Finally, find joy in your partner’s strengths. In the end, your partner may not be open to the behaviors you suggest. They may disagree with your perspective. Don’t get hung up on this. Each of us is comprised of many qualities, some bad, some good. Try to focus on your partner’s good qualities and continue improving your own.

I’ve shared a few ideas for starting the conversation. Our books and courses teach several more on continuing that conversation and supporting someone through behavior change.

Good luck,

You can learn more insights and skills like this in Crucial Conversations for Accountability

12 thoughts on “How to “Nudge” Your Partner to Change”

  1. Justin

    Thanks Ryan!

  2. Marvin

    Ryan what a great group of conversation tips & nudges!

    Thanks 😃

  3. Rose

    It may be important to start (not end) with the understanding that your partner may disagree on the importance of the skills you want them to adopt. They may not have an issue with what you perceive as a disorganized approach to their life, and beginning with that understanding may be critical. The adage that opposites attract is often true and adds to the spice of life! Not all behaviors need to be altered and GTD isn’t for everyone.

    1. Ryan Trimble

      I like that perspective, Rose. Thanks.

  4. Paul J Beattie

    Perfect timing. Thank you Ryan

  5. Cricket Buchler

    Ryan, I love the way you presented these ideas here. I have been a practitioner and teacher of these concepts for two decades, but still found many of the nuances here to be fresh and helpful. I especially appreciate your take on Mastering My Stories. Recognizing an issue as “my problem, not yours” is very powerful. Thank you.

    1. Ryan Trimble

      Thank you, Cricket. That means a lot.

  6. Michele

    Hi, your spouse might come back with what you need to change and work on. Are you prepared for that? If you are a manager or supervisor, it doesn’t always work to manage the way you do at work. You will get the response, I’m not one of your employees.

  7. Andy Blanchard

    Thanks ryan, I will read this to my spouse this weekend, see if we can’t navigate a better way to express our problems.

  8. Linda

    I find the references to different resources across different program quite useful. Thanks Ryan.
    P.S This article could very well be titled ‘ how to keep sight of respect n the face of disagreement or irritation’ 🙂

    1. Ryan Trimble

      Yes, it could. Thanks, Linda. 🙂

  9. Nancy Roberts

    This article reminds me of one of my favorite mantras, “If it triggers me, it’s about me.”

    And if that is true, then I can also assume if it triggers them, it’s about them. A great way to remember that most things in life are projection and not to take things personally!

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