The Secret of Change

Jan 24, 2019

By Carol Kinsey Goman, Ph.D.

Twenty years ago, I was a therapist in private practice, specializing in short-term therapy for behavioral change. As a new therapist, I experienced the usual mix of success and failure in my attempts to help people stop smoking, lose weight, improve performance and develop behaviors that would help them excel in their careers.

Over time I became more proficient, but I instantly and dramatically became more effective when I learned the “secret of change.” From that point on, I could tell if someone was set to succeed—even before we began the first session. I helped my clients understand this “secret” through my responses to their statements about why they were in my office:

Client: “My doctor wants me to quit smoking.”
CKG: “Fine. Make an appointment for your doctor and come back when there's something you want to do.”

Client: “My husband hates it when I get this fat.”
CKG: “Okay, now I know his problem. What’s yours?”

Client: “My sales manager would really like me to meet my monthly quota.”
CKG: “I’ll bet she would. What would you really like?”

Client: “My parents want me to get better grades.”
CKG: “No doubt. Now, tell me about your goals.”

That is the big secret. People rarely change because others want them to. That motivation just isn’t strong enough. In effect, it isn’t selfish enough!

I'm not saying there is anything wrong with trying to change for someone else; I’m only reporting that it doesn’t work. Once I helped these same individuals identify, focus on and create an overwhelming personal desire for change, the result was almost always a resounding success.

Everything I learned as a therapist has helped me in my work with organizational transformation, but nothing has been quite as powerful as the secret of change. The discovery of this secret illustrates several truths:

  • Communicating the WIFM (“What's in it for me?”) is vitally important
  • A successful change strategy needs to include small wins and rewards along the way
  • Telling the real-life stories of those who've been successful with a given change is incredibly powerful
  • Involving employees in choosing and creating change is the ultimate transformation strategy

But, hey, that’s just my experience. I might be wrong. You could always try telling employees to change because the company leadership wants them to. Let me know how that works out.

About the Author(s)

Carol Kinsey Goman coaches executives, helps teams develop strategies, and delivers keynote speeches and seminars to business audiences around the world. She is the author of nine books, including her latest, The Nonverbal Advantage: Secrets and Science of Body Language at Work. For more information: telephone: 510-526-1727, e-mail: , or  the Web: