How to Facilitate Real Change

Have you ever had a conversation with someone about change who left with renewed optimism, praising you for your brilliant communication skills, but they repeatedly fail to implement any lasting change?

Although we may sometimes feel like conversational superheros, we need to reassess our effectiveness every once and a while. If we measure our effectiveness by the other persons agreeableness, praise, or optimism at the end of the conversation, we are misleading ourselves. Real change cannot be measured by these variables.

So what creates real change? The answer is simple, yet often difficult to implement because it requires us to put our egos in the back seat. The answer lies in the degree to which we can hold space for the other individual to convince themselves of their own reasons for change, in addition to feeling like they’ve come up with their own plan of action.

Holding space for someone to convince themselves of their commitment may require us to ask open ended questions about some of the things that are valuable to the other person. When they begin sharing, we are only required to listen, reflecting these reasons back to them to insure we are understanding them properly, in addition to observing and labeling their emotions as they share. The more they talk about these reasons, the more they build their own fuel for action.

Once we’ve learned what matters to that person, we need to help them build a plan of action, but the trick is to be seemingly invisible in the process. They need to feel as if they’ve come up with the plan themselves. We love doing things we believe we’ve come up with and we hate feeling forced or pressured into action.

So how do we help build a plan, while remaining relatively invisible? Just as before, use open-ended questions and reflections. For example, “…how might you start taking steps toward [insert their specific goal/passion/skill]?. 

Deep down, people generally know what they want and generally know what they need to do to get it. The issue is that they are not fully bought into their own ideas. When we gently elicit their reasons for change and their thoughts on how to practically implement these changes, we bring these thoughts into the light, untangling the fear and messiness that comes with change.

All in all, the other person should feel like they did all the work in the conversation, not you, despite your highly skillful, yet relatively invisible, guidance. It may require putting our egos in the back seat, but it is worth it. Real change comes from within the other person.



  1. You make some really great points! As someone often on the receiving end of facilitation, I especially appreciate the “holding space for them…” and “Deep down, people generally know what they want and generally know what they need to do to get it. The issue is that they are not fully bought into their own ideas.” Yeah, feeling validated in my interests and owning them is very often the hardest part. Once that’s done sufficiently, the rest unfolds fairly well.


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