9 Ways To Change A Person’s Attitude

What do you do if someone you know or work with has a bad attitude or poor habit of doing something? A leader’s and parent’s job often includes mastering human relations by changing people’s attitudes and behavior.

What do you do if someone you know or work with has a bad attitude or poor habit of doing something? A leader’s and parent’s job often includes mastering human relations by changing people’s attitudes and behavior.

These principles are taken from How to Win Friends and Influence People Part IV.

1. Begin with praise and honest appreciation.

If you must find fault, this is the way to begin.

Beginning with praise is like the dentist who begins his or her work with Novocain. The patient still gets a drilling, but the Novocain is pain-killing.

It is always easier to listen to unpleasant things after we have heard some praise of our good points.

How Lincoln used tact and diplomacy to correct a General’s grave faults

A period of black sorrow and chaos

For eighteen months during the Civil War, Lincoln’s generals had been leading the Union Army from one tragic defeat to another. Nothing but futile, stupid human butchery. The nation was appalled. Thousands of soldiers had deserted from the army, and even the Republican members of the Senate had revolted and wanted to force Lincoln out of the White House. “We are on the brink of destruction,” Lincoln said. “It appears to me that even the Almighty is against us. I can hardly see a ray of hope.” Such was the period of black sorrow and chaos out of which he was compelled to write one of his more famous letters.

Lincoln wrote one of his sharpest, more famous, letters

Lincoln probably dashed this letter off in five minutes; yet it sold at public auction in 1926 for twelve thousand dollars. The letter was written to General Joseph Hooker on April 26, 1863, during the darkest period of the Civil War. The letter shows how Lincoln tried to change an obstreperous general when the very fate of the nation could have depended upon the general’s action. This is perhaps the sharpest letter Abe Lincoln wrote after he became President; yet you will note that he praised General Hooker before he spoke of his grave faults. Here is the letter he addressed to General Hooker:

I have placed you at the head of the Army of the Potomac. Of course, I have done this upon what appears to me to be sufficient reasons, and yet I think it best for you to know that there are some things in regard to which I am not quite satisfied with you.

I believe you to be a brave and skillful soldier, which, of course, I like. I also believe you do not mix politics with your profession, in which you are right. You have confidence in yourself, which is valuable if not an indispensable quality.

You are ambitious, which, within reasonable bounds, does good rather than harm. But I think that during General Burnside’s command of the army you have taken counsel of your ambition and thwarted him as much as you could, in which you did a great wrong to the country and to a most meritorious and honorable brother officer.

I have heard, in such a way as to believe it, of your recently saying that both the army and the Government needed a dictator. Of course, it was not for this, but in spite of it, that I have given you command.

Only those generals who gain successes can set up as dictators. What I now ask of you is military success and I will risk the dictatorship.

The Government will support you to the utmost of its ability, which is neither more or less than it has done and will do for all commanders. I much fear that the spirit which you have aided to infuse into the army, of criticizing their commander and withholding confidence from him, will now turn upon you. I shall assist you, as far as I can, to put it down.

Neither you nor Napoleon, if he were alive again, could get any good out of an army while such spirit prevails in it, and now beware of rashness. Beware of rashness, but with energy and sleepless vigilance go forth and give us victories.

Talk about tact and diplomacy!

Will this same philosophy Lincoln used to operate for you in everyday business and home life? You bet it will! Give it a try!

If you must correct someone’s error-thinking, begin with praise and honest appreciation.

2. Call attention to people’s mistakes indirectly.

How to criticize—and not be hated for it.

Calling attention to one’s mistakes indirectly works wonders with sensitive people who may resent bitterly any direct criticism.

Simply changing one three-letter word can often spell the difference between failure and success in changing people without giving offense or arousing resentment. Many people begin their criticism with sincere praise followed by the word “but”  and ending with a critical statement. The word “but” has the psychological effect of negating what was said before it. When we hear the word “but” our mind and body go into defensive mode preparing for the hurtful criticism that is to come. It is much more effective to change the word “but” to “and.”

How to help your children improve their grades and their self-confidence

Since the new school year is beginning, here’s a timely example of how I might apply it with my child and his grades:

Rather than saying this, “We are really proud of you, Joey, for raising your grades this term. But if you had worked harder on your algebra, the results would have been better.”

I might say this instead, “We’re really proud of you, Joey, for raising your grades this term, and by continuing the same conscientious efforts next term, your algebra grade can be up with all the others.”

By using the second approach, Joey would be more likely to accept the praise because there would be no follow-up of an inference of failure. Instead, we have called attention to the behavior we wish to change indirectly, and the chances are he will try to live up to our expectations.

Today, let’s choose to call attention to people’s mistakes indirectly so we achieve improved cooperation and mutual success.

3. Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing the other person.

It isn’t nearly so difficult to listen to a recital of your faults if the person criticizing begins humbly admitting that he or she, too, is far from impeccable.

Before starting to criticize another person . . .

Before starting to criticize another person we might want to, stop, and reflect on our own experience compared to the other person. Doing so may trigger our thoughts to go something like this, “You are twice as old as him or her. You have had ten thousand times as much business experience. How can you possibly expect him or her to have your viewpoint, your judgment, your initiative—mediocre though they may be? Remember the asinine mistakes and blunders you made? Remember the time you did this…and that…?”

After such reflection, your conversation might go more like this, “You have made a mistake but Lord knows, it’s no worse than many I have made. You were not born with judgment. That only comes with experience, and you are better than I was at your age. I have been guilty of so many stupid, silly things myself, I have very little inclination to criticize you or anyone. That said, don’t you think it would be wiser if you do so and so next time?”

Humbling one’s self produces miracles

Admitting one’s own mistakes—even when one hasn’t corrected them—can help convince somebody to change his or her behavior.

A few sentences humbling oneself and praising the other party can turn even a proud, insulted authoritarian into a staunch friend. Imagine what humility and praise can do for you and me in our daily contacts. Rightfully used, they will work veritable miracles in human relations.

Be a good leader and talk about your own mistakes before criticizing others.

4. Ask questions instead of giving direct orders.

To be an effective leader, ask questions instead of giving direct orders.

When we ask questions, instead of giving orders, we give people the opportunity to do things themselves instead of taking away their accountability by telling them to do things; let them do them, let them learn from their mistakes. Give suggestions, not orders by asking questions like:

  • “Have you considered this . . . ?”
  • “Do you think that . . . will work?”
  • What do you think of this . . . ?
  • Maybe if we were to do it this way . . . it would be better. What do you think?

A technique like that makes it easy for a person to correct errors. A technique like that saves a person’s pride and gives him or her a feeling of importance. It encourages cooperation instead of rebellion.

Asking questions not only makes an order more palatable; it often stimulates the creativity of the persons whom you ask. People are more likely to accept an order if they have had a part in the decision that caused the order to be issued. They are more apt to approach the situation with a “We can do it” attitude.

Be an effective leader by asking questions instead of giving direct orders.

5. Let the other person save face.

“I have no right to say or do anything that diminishes a man in his own eyes. What matters is not what I think of him, but what he thinks of himself. Hurting a man in his dignity is a crime.”

~Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Letting one save face! How important, how vitally important that is! And how few of us ever stop to think of it!

We ride roughshod over the feelings of others, getting in our own way, finding fault, issuing threats, criticizing a child or an employee in front of others, without even considering the hurt to the other person’s pride. Whereas a few minutes’ thought, a considerate word or two, a genuine understanding of the other person’s attitude, would go so far toward alleviating the sting!

Even if we are right and the other person is definitely wrong, we only destroy ego by causing someone to lose face.

How the General Electric Company dealt with a valuable employee . . .

Years ago the General Electric Company was faced with the delicate task of removing Charles Steinmetz from the head of a department. Steinmetz, a genius of the first magnitude when it came to electricity, was a failure as the head of the calculating department. Yet the company didn’t dare offend the man. He was indispensable—and highly sensitive. So they gave him a new title. They made him Consulting Engineer of the General Electric Company—a new title for work he was already doing—and let someone else head up the department.

Steinmetz was happy. So were the officers of G.E. They had gently maneuvered their most temperamental star, and they had done it without a storm—by letting him save face.

Let’s remember that the next time we are faced with the distasteful necessity of discharging or reprimanding an employee.

Let’s be good leaders by letting the other person save face.

6. Praise the slightest improvement and praise every improvement. Be “hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise.”

“Abilities wither under criticism;

they blossom under encouragement.”

~Dale Carnegie

We all crave appreciation and recognition, and will do almost anything to get it. But nobody wants insincerity. Nobody wants flattery. When praise is specific, it comes across as sincere—not something the other person may be saying just to make one feel good.

If you and I will inspire the people with whom we come in contact to a realization of the hidden treasures they possess, we can do far more than change people. We can literally transform them.

What psychologists have discovered about praise, criticism, and human potential . . .

Use of praise instead of criticism is the basic concept of B.F. Skinner’s teachings. This great contemporary psychologist has shown by experiments with animals and with humans that when criticism is minimized and praise emphasized, the good things people do will be reinforced and the poorer things will atrophy for lack of attention.

The psychologist, Jess Lair, said, “Praise is like sunlight to the warm human spirit; we cannot flower and grow without it. And yet, while most of us are only too ready to apply to others the cold wind of criticism, we are somehow reluctant to give our fellow the warm sunshine of praise.”

William James said, “Compared with what we ought to be, we are only half awake. We are making use of only a small part of our physical and mental resources. Stating the thing broadly, the human individual thus lives far within his limits. He possesses powers of various sorts which he habitually fails to use.”

Yes, you who are reading these words possess powers of various sorts which you habitually fail to use; and one of these powers you are probably not using to the fullest extent is your magic ability to praise people and inspire them with a realization of their latent possibilities.

To be an effective leader who inspires others to greatness, praise the slightest improvement and praise every improvement. Be hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise.

7. Give the other person a fine reputation to live up to.

“Assume a virtue, if you have it not.”


If you want to improve a person in a certain respect, act as though that particular trait were already one of his or her outstanding characteristics.

It might be well to assume and state openly that other people have the virtue you want them to develop. Give them a fine reputation to live up to, and they will make prodigious efforts rather than see you disillusioned.

There’s an old saying: “Give a dog a bad name and you may as well hang him.” But give him a good name—and see what happens.

What to do when a good worker begins to turn in shoddy work . . .

You can fire him or her, but that really doesn’t solve anything. You can berate the worker, but this usually causes resentment.

Instead, why not sit down and have a heart to heart conversation with him or her. Let him or her know how much you have appreciated the outstanding work he or she has done in the past. Let him or her know your dissatisfaction with the present situation. Then, jointly agree to some way to correct the problem. Give him or her a fine reputation to live up to.

Samuel Vauclain, President of the Baldwin Locomotive Works, said, “The average person can be led readily if you have his or her respect and if you show that you respect that person for some kind of ability.”

What an savvy teacher did to handle a troublesome student . . .

When Mrs. Ruth Hopkins, a fourth-grade teacher in Brooklyn, New York, looked at her class roster for the first day of school, her excitement and joy of starting a new term was tinged with anxiety. In her class this year she would have Tommy T., the school’s most notorious “bad boy.” His third-grade teacher had constantly complained about Tommy to colleagues, the principal and anyone else who would listen. He was not just mischievous; he caused serious discipline problems in the class, picked fights with boys, teased girls, was fresh to the teacher, and seemed to get worse as he grew older. His only redeeming feature was his ability to learn rapidly and master school work easily.

Mrs. Hopkins decided to face the “Tommy problem” immediately. When she greeted her new students, she made little comments to each of them: “Rose, that’s a pretty dress you are wearing.” “Alicia, I hear you draw beautifully.” When she came to Tommy, she looked him straight in the eyes and said, “Tommy, I understand you are a natural leader. I’m going to depend on you to help make the class the best class in the fourth grade this year.” She reinforced this over the first few days by complimenting Tommy on everything he did and commenting on how this showed what a good student he was. With that reputation to live up to, even a nine-year-old couldn’t let her down—and he didn’t.

If you want to excel in that difficult leadership role of changing the attitude or behavior of others, give the other person a fine reputation to live up to.

8. Use encouragement. Make the fault seem easy to correct.

Tell your child, your spouse, or your employee that he or she is stupid or dumb at a certain thing, has no gift for it, and is doing it all wrong, and you have destroyed almost every incentive to try to improve. But use the opposite technique…

  • be liberal with your encouragement,
  • make the thing seem easy to do,
  • let the other person know that you have faith in his or her ability to do it, that he or she has an undeveloped flair for it,

and he or she will practice until the dawn comes in the window in order to excel.

Don’t be the leader or teacher who discourages others by emphasizing their mistakes. Do the opposite. Keep praising the things they do right and minimizing dwelling on the errors. Let them see the innate strengths they possess. Encourage them. Don’t discourage them. Give them hope. Then, deep in their heart, they will eventually begin believing it.

Make them want to improve. Let them discover that learning a new way of doing something can be easy and fun. This revelation can change their whole life.

If you want to help others to improve, use encouragement. Make the fault seem easy to correct.

9. Make the other person happy about doing the thing you suggest.

Always make the other person happy about doing the thing you suggest.

Statesmen and diplomats aren’t the only ones who use this make-a-person-happy-to-do-things-you-want-them-to-do approach.

The effective leader should keep the following guidelines in mind when it is necessary to change attitudes or behavior:

  1. Be sincere. Do not promise anything that you cannot deliver. Forget about the benefits to yourself and concentrate on the benefits to the other person.
  2. Know exactly what it is you want the other person to do.
  3. Be empathetic. Ask yourself what is it the other person really wants.
  4. Consider the benefits that person will receive from doing what you suggest.
  5. Match those benefits to the other person’s wants.
  6. When you make your request, put it in a form that will convey to the other person the idea that he or she personally will benefit.

How Napoleon mastered this principle . . .

Childish? Perhaps. But that is what they said to Napoleon when he created the Legion of Honor and distributed 15,000 crosses to his soldiers and made eighteen of his generals “Marshals of France” and called his troops the “Grand Army.” Napoleon was criticized for giving “toys” to war-hardened veterans, and Napoleon replied, “Men are ruled by toys.”

This technique of giving titles and authority worked for Napoleon and it will work for you.

People are more likely to do what you would like them to do when you make the other person happy about doing the thing you suggest—causing you to be happier as well.

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