When I asked Tal Ben-shahar “What works in truly transforming people” he beautifully gave all of us at the dinner table his research and analytical understanding of the answer to this question. As a leader in the area or Positive Psychology at Pennsylvania University, he started by informing us what factors are not necessarily guarantees of success. These included:
1. Qualifications – A qualified Psychiatrist, with all his/her medical training and years of specialization (all up at least 9 years including a medical degree) may not be the most successful at “fixing” people’s malaise or inspiring them to be their best.
2. Professional Credentials – just because someone has lots of pieces of paper on the wall, and they seem impressive, this is not a formula for capability and certainty of value for your investment.
3. Years of Practice – a lifetime of professional practice, no matter the modality (psychiatry, psychology, counseling, coaching, mentoring, consulting etc) will not determine your success in a relationship with one of these people
4. Price – the most expensive is not necessarily n indicator someone is good at supporting your change.
5. Great websites or marketing material – how many average products are marketed well, yet doesn’t live up to expectations. A professional engaged in supporting change is no different. It is the substance over form argument.
6. Smooth talk and slick sales process – someone might be able to “sell the sizzle” but not be able to “deliver the sausage”. Quite often, when the self-promotion over rides the client devotion, the alarm bells must be heard.
So what does work, at least according to Tal and his team’s research? There is one thing that stands out more than any other in effecting change and even transformation – and it is empathy. Is that it. Yep. Think about it. If someone truly listens to you, feels and appreciates your situation and can express this in a way that you realise they “get you”, what do you notice? My experience says that you this person “knows you” and can therefore you can trust them “with you”. You will allow them to lead and direct you in ways that, without the trust, you will find all the excuses to not change.
What does all this mean? I would hope as you read this you may be having a realization, whether you are someone in the profession, or someone who is just frustrated that yourself or someone you are close to is not making the changes you/they so desire. How empathetic are you to others, to yourself, to your clients. Try feeling more of their world by “stepping into their shoes” and from this space be with them (or with yourself). What do you notice? What is possible form here?
For the professional, I say there are two things for transformation. Number one is Tal’s research findings around empathy. And number two is just as importantly structure and a path. If you have both and use them effectively, your chances of being a great practitioner are multiplied. What do you need to acknowledge needs adjustment around these two areas before you can be great? Be courageous and do it – for your own or your clients sake!