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How to get your family to support your health transformation – without begging or getting angry

When one person in a family takes that first scary, courageous step toward wellness, you would think that everyone else in the family would be supportive.

After all, being well generally means being happier, kinder, more energetic, more generous, and less of a burden.

And don't we all want our loved ones to be well?

Disruption Can Be Scary

But the reality is, many people are threatened by change. If you've started changing your ways to be healthier and fitter, your partner or parents or children might get quite anxious and upset.

They might think:

  • “Now we're not going to eat yummy food any more.”
  • “Who is she to think she's better than me?”
  • “I'm not going to change – and he better not try and make me!”
  • “There goes our social life – nobody's going to want to hang out with us if she's like that.”
  • “If he loses weight and gets fit, he'll probably leave me.”

They may not admit to having these thoughts (even to themselves). And they probably won't realize that these fears are what are driving their opposition to your transformation.

So what can you do about it?

First, learn how to conduct a Transformation Conversation.

This is a technique that comes from the excellent book, Change Anything, by Patterson, Grenny, and others.

Here's a video explaining the technique from my Proteinaholic Transition Course:

And here's the accompanying worksheet: Transformation Conversation Worksheet

(For a free test drive of the full course, go here.)

Lessons from a Crack Hostage Negotiator

One of my favorite books of this year is Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended On It, by Chris Voss.

It turns out that the FBI techniques honed over decades of tense international hostage negotiations with some of the most depraved and despicable humans on the planet are actually quite applicable to much more refined situations. Like:

Business deals.

Spats with neighbors over dogs and cats and flower beds.

Getting family members to support your transformation.

Tactical Empathy

One of the most important principles of negotiation is to demonstrate empathy with your counterpart (notice I didn't say “opponent” or “adversary”). Empathy achieves a lot – it's not just a touchy-feely tactic.

Empathy encourages your counterpart to feel safe. This allows them to think creatively rather than defensively. It also makes it more likely they'll act in a generous manner.

Empathy also encourages your counterpart to speak more freely. And the most important currency of a negotiation is information. The more you know about your counterpart's situation and their thinking and their emotions, the bigger your advantage in any negotiation.

You can generate empathy, according to Voss, by asking questions about which you are genuinely curious. Truly seek to understand your counterpart's point of view. What outcomes do they fear? What are they concerned about? What do they want?

Be curious and non-judgmental, seeking to understand fully, so that you can paraphrase their concerns back to them.

Here's how you know you've succeeded in achieving and displaying empathy: your counterpart will respond, “That's right!” to your summary of their point of view.

Labels, Right and Wrong

A second technique to draw out your counterpart, especially if they're reluctant to share their true thoughts and feelings (which happens when they're ashamed of them), is to use labels.

For example:

  • “It sounds like you're worried that I'll stop baking those cookies you love.”
  • “It seems like you prefer me at the weight I am now.”
  • “It looks like you're angry with me for wanting to disrupt our routine.”
  • If you're right, that's great. You can empathize, and get them to own their thoughts and feelings rather than project them onto you in some distorted fashion.

If you're wrong – that's also great. Now they can correct you, which they will often do with great enthusiasm. Nobody wants to feel misunderstood. And then you'll have a better sense of where they're coming from and what's important to them.

For proof that nobody wants to feel misunderstood:

Challenge Them to Be Helpful

This is an advanced tactic to be pulled out at the end of a negotiation if your counterpart isn't playing ball.

In a blog post published today, Chris Voss suggests two specific labels that may challenge them to positive action by implying that they may be powerless. Nobody wants to feel powerless.

Here are the labels:

“It sounds like there’s nothing I can say to get you to change your mind.”

“It sounds like you’re powerless here.” 

They're kind of nuclear, in that they could potentially backfire if your counterpart says “That's right.” So don't pull them out in any but a “last chance” effort to save a negotiation.

But if nothing else is getting through, these questions invite your counterpart to look within, and explore their willingness and ability to act on your behalf.

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