Book Review: Helping People Change

I am a professional coach AND I am an engineer. With that I’m very much interested in educating myself further in scientifically grounded readings in my professional fields.

Last winter, I finally read ‘Helping People Change’ after it landed on my professional reading list a couple of times i.e. through recommendation of esteemed colleagues and through review articles in an academic magazine on business psychology. 

Helping People Change

First and foremost: Helping People Change is not a book “just for coaches”! 

Even though at a first glance its subtitle Coaching with Compassion for Lifelong Learning and Growth might suggest this.

A book for (almost) all human beings

The second glance reveals: the authors Richard Boyatzis, Melvin Smith und Ellen Van Oosten wrote a book which is useful for all kinds of humans. 

The book is intended for people who support other people in their further (professional) development.

So if you work:

then Helping People Change is most likely for you. Also is for professionals who seek to include and leverage more coaching elements in their work.

What's in the book?

Boatzis, Smith and Van Oosten deliver an excellent mix of personal change stories, research bits, educational theoretical input as well as practical advice and tools to try out.

Here’s an overview of the book’s contents:

Almost all of the ten chapters end with a list of condensed key learning points, some reflection and application exercises as well as guiding questions that are well-suited e.g. for professional conversation circles or book clubs.

Be intentional with your coaching

At the heart of Helping People Change is the Intentional Change Theory [ICT] which the authors are all experts in.

ICT promotes human growth and development through envisioning goals, closing gaps, experimenting and fostering compassionate relationships for lasting change. 

To facilitate achieving that, Intentional Change Theory includes six key elements:

Compassion over compliance

A main message to us "people workers" in the book is: seek to coach for compassion instead of coaching for compliance. Unfortunately the latter is still more prevalent in "traditional” business environments.

Intentional Change Theory helps to explain why coaching for compassion is crucial and also how to implement it in our daily work with people.

Your own growth...

A big part of Helping People Change is self-development for us people-workers, be that coaches, teachers, managers, parents or care workers.

Without regularly reflecting on our current work, perspectives and coaching style as well as creating and enhancing our own habit of daily renewal activities, it can get very hard to effectively help other people on their change journeys.

… and the importance of renewal

Renewal is another central piece of this book.

Renewal activities help us to be more often in a Positive Emotional Attractor (PEA) space and balance Negative Emotional Attractors (NEA) more skillfully.  

PEA and NEA are two central elements of Intentional Change Theory where very briefly:

While it is important to experience and to create an awareness for both - the PEA and the NEA - renewal activities help us to actively balance our biological renewal system [PNS] with stress responses [SNS]. 

And stress and stress responses is something we all have in our lives, be that at work and beyond.

Renewal and Leadership

In the context of leading people and managing change, incorporating renewal activities is even more crucial. 

Renewal activities within leadership can e.g. be knowing and applying practices that help individuals or groups shift from NEA to PEA states, promote resilience, creativity, or even well-being. 

Such activities include e.g.:

By integrating renewal activities, we as leaders can cultivate environments that support positive emotional states and facilitate effective change management.


All in all Helping People Change is a highly recommended read (I hate the expression “must read” ;-)) for everyone working professionally with other human beings and who wants to intentionally develop their help-other-humans-grow skills.

If you read the book: let me and others know what you think.

If not: please do share your questions.

PS: If you’re interested in a conversation circle about this book: drop me an e-mail. I am thinking of starting one at the end of summer.


[PNS] -  Renewal system is connected to the parasympathethic nervous system (PNS)

[SNS] - Stress response is connected/activating the sympathetic nervous system (SNS)

Thanks for reading! 😊

I'm Cosima.
I work with teams and organizations who want to achieve more together,
and I coach human beings who want clarity, lightness and power in their (business) life.