The colossal misunderstanding of our time is the assumption that insight will work with people who are unmotivated to change. – Edwin Friedman, A Failure of Nerve, p. ix

This quote, with which I often open a speaking engagement, has had a profound impact on my career and, indeed, my life. Its application ubiquitous – to family, to colleagues, to church groups, to political parties, to international relations – and I encounter its effects daily and often multiple times in one day.

The name of this post is, maybe not so obviously, an acronym for this quote. In the past week I have used it, the acronym no less than four times in various on-line conversations. (One person, after just seeming the jumble of letters, asked me if I was alright. I think, perhaps, they thought I was having a stroke.)

Just yesterday I was in a conversation with a colleague about some folks who seemed to be caught up in the past. In a meeting he attended with them, they were unmoved by the mounting evidence he was presenting that the situation was, in fact, changing. This was clearly contrary to their belief and they refused to accept it.

He then asked how I might approach changing their minds. I was, yet again, reminded of Friedman’s great quote. I replied that it is futile to try to change their minds because, well, it is their mind, not his.

I did suggest that in the future when confronted with a similar situation he ask the following question, “Are you willing to admit that there is a possibility that the situation could improve in the future?”

I said that only if he gets an affirmative response to this question should he agree to continue the conversation. Anything other than a “Yes” response would mean it would be futile to continue. If an individual or group is unwilling to recognize this possibility, no amount of data, evidence, anecdotes or emotional appeals will change them. Continuing the conversation will only heighten your anxiety and theirs.

Which reminds me of another famous quote by Robert Heinlein, “Never try to teach a pig to sing; it wastes your time and it annoys the pig.”

What about you? Are you open to the possibility of a better future?

PS – If you are interested in learning more about the work of Edwin Friedman this video provides an good overview.

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