You know the story of the frog and the scorpion, right? If not, here goes:

A frog is sitting on the riverbank about to cross the river. A scorpion arrives on the scene and says to the frog, “Will you give me a ride across the river on your back?”
“You must be crazy,” the frog replies. “Why would I do that? You’ll sting me.”
The scorpion says, “Noooooo, I wouldn’t do that. If I sting you, we’ll both drown. I may be a scorpion, but I don’t have a death wish.”
After going back and forth a few times, the frog finally agrees to take the scorpion across the river. Sure enough, halfway across, the scorpion stings the frog. As they’re both going under for the last time, the frog yells, “Why the hell did you sting me?”
The scorpion replies, “Because I’m a scorpion and that’s what scorpions do.”

The point of the story is that most people don’t change who they are and how they operate. This is not to say that people can’t change their behavior, but generally speaking, they don’t, unless they’re highly motivated to do so.

In coaching people who are attempting to get someone else to change, I’ve told this story hundreds of times. It always hits home. Whether it’s in a business context or a personal relationship, you can pretty much count on people to act in the future as they have in the past. A person’s character traits are usually “baked in” by the time they’re four or five years old.

Several years ago, one of my CEO clients had a longtime employee named Liz. She was a great worker, technically skilled, and had a good understanding of the company inside and out. Liz lacked people skills. Over the years, coworkers had complained that she was pushy and dismissive. When the company had a senior-level management position open, my client wanted to appoint Liz. When I raised the issue of her people skills, he said he planned to get her some coaching and management training. I told him the story of the frog and the scorpion and asked if he really expected Liz to change her stripes. Long story short: he promoted her anyway and despite coaching and management training, Liz’s people skills continued to be an issue. Three of her direct reports resigned because they couldn’t tolerate working with her. My client eventually reassigned Liz to a non-management position.

It’s natural for us to want others to change the qualities and behaviors we’d like to see them improve. If someone has good qualities—they’re skilled, talented, smart, hardworking, etc.—we often believe they can and will marshal the forces to change the things we don’t like. Our ego says, “Once I talk this person, he’ll see it my way and change.” Yes, change is possible.

But as I said before, most people don’t change unless they’re highly motivated to do so—and that motivation has to come from deep within, not from the outside. Remember the frog and the scorpion.