How to be robust, not just resilient
You want someone to change—your partner, your kids, your boss, your friend, whomever. You’re really hoping you can get them to stop doing that thing that drives you crazy.
But if it drives you crazy, then you’re at their mercy. Your wellbeing depends on them changing. That’s a lot of power to surrender to others.
Maybe you’re resilient, able to recover quickly after being driven crazy. Fast recovery is nice, but not needing to recover is better.
Wherever possible, develop robustness, not just resilience. Robustness is the ability to withstand adverse conditions calmly and firmly. Resilience is just the capacity to recover quickly after being thrown of balance.
Think James Bond. He’s not just resilient; he’s robust. You don’t see him recovering his cool after a fight. He’s cool throughout the fight.
Following are 14 strategies for maximizing your robustness in any campaign to change someone who is driving you crazy:
- Minimize dependency. What do you absolutely need them to do differently? It may be less than you assume. Figure out exactly what you need and train your gut to ignore the rest.
- Depend elsewhere. Since they’re resisting, are there workarounds? Figure out if you can get what you need by other means. Maybe you just haven’t allowed yourself to think outside the relationship to find practical alternatives.
- Find it in yourself. Do they drive you crazy by disrespecting you? Maybe you can boost your inner respect so you rely less on theirs. Practice what you would say to preserve your dignity even if you never get their respect.
- Stop trying to prove your power to yourself. If you feel humiliated when someone doesn’t change, maybe it’s because you’re looking for evidence of your own power. We all want evidence of our power but maybe you can get it by other means. For example, are you afraid they’ll change your mind if you don’t change theirs? If so, cultivate confidence in your own position so the campaign doesn’t have to become the sole proof of your ability to stick to your guns. If you know that they won’t persuade you, they can try all they like and you’ll stay calm.
- Plan your response to dead ends. Arguments escalate as both parties dig their heels in deeper and deeper. Pledging not to do that won’t work. Instead, rehearse what you’ll say or do to stop yourself from escalating. Come up with your “noping strategy”—your strategy for coping with escalation by saying a clean—polite but firm—“Nope, I’m not pursuing this now.” Make it something you can enforce with minimal effort.
- Drop the moralizing. Moral rationales motivate our campaigns, but dwelling on them is often futile. We live in a morally diverse world, and there’s a good chance that your morals will diverge from those that others embrace. If you’ve made your moral case and it’s not working, reiterating it is probably a waste of breath. It stirs and agitates you but not the person you’re trying to change.
- Try a simple request for a change. When you’re both calm, try simply asking for what want. Declare it as a simple preference. Don’t give reasons why they should do it. Sometimes it’s your pressure they’re resisting, not the request you’re making.
- Vote with your feet, not your mouth. If they’re not listening to you, stop talking. People who block your opinion often think that they can change your mind. Treat their blocking as an invitation to keep them in the dark about your opinion.
- Be a social engineer. Maybe you can’t change people, but you can often change how you interact with them to bring out a different part of their existing character. Devise behaviors that shape their response. Think strategically. Imitate whatever brings out other sides them in other contexts. We shouldn’t manipulate but we do want to influence, and fear of being manipulative shouldn’t prevent us from thinking about what we can do to bring out compatible behaviors in others.
- Have a Plan B. Decide in advance what you’ll do if your campaign to change someone fails. Knowing you have a Plan B will keep you calm in pursuit of Plan A. Share it if you think it will help, but don’t dwell on it either in your own mind or with the people you’re trying to change. Pocket it. Keep it on hand as a comfort, evidence that you’ll be OK if your whole campaign fails.
- Know when to quit trying. This is easier than it sounds. When you each can make each other’s argument convincingly and still haven’t changed each other’s minds, you’re done, at least for now. No reiteration of your arguments is going to change each other’s minds once you’ve really heard each other.
- Admit that robustness isn’t always possible. Sometimes a campaign is do or die, no way out or around the person you’re trying to persuade. If your children are behaving horribly you can’t just stop raising them. If you have zero job alternatives, your only option may be to persuade your boss to stop being a jerk to you. Robustness is worth striving for. It can’t always be achieved.
- Don’t be a robust jerk. Some of the worst people in the world are robust, unflappably committed to horrible campaigns. Pick your campaigns carefully.
- Robustness can make you more persuasive and receptive. Calm people do better in negotiation and debate. They’re more charismatic and powerful than people who seem desperate to win. Robustness can make us more receptive too. When you don’t have to steel your nerves to protect yourself in a debate you can listen better.