There is a phenomenon – an obscure sorrow – called sonder. It is the realisation that every person, each random passer-by, is living a life as complex as your own. They have their own ambitions, hopes, dreams. Just as they are an extra in the movie of your life, you are an extra in the movie of theirs.
Photo by Bannon Morrissy
It makes one realise the scale of our world, let alone what’s beyond it. The concept can be isolated to the understanding people have of how to change. Whatever your lived experience with change is, other people will have a completely different set of experiences that inform their understanding and decision making.
Everyone has their own experience of change: how to change themselves, how help others change. You may share some of the same experiences, but other people’s lives will be built on so many small moments that are so different to yours that you may struggle to even comprehend that. Someone can tell you in great detail about something that happened to them, but you can still never understand it in the way that they do because it comes from a second-hand source.
You will never know the intricacies of the history they carry around with them, which colours how they have experienced that event. You can never hold the complexity, the nuances. Each person’s experience is truly unique, and so our understanding of change will be completely unique too.
Change Learning Techniques
One change learning technique that I had never come across until I was introduced to it by a colleague is a certain type of repetition. Let’s say, for example, that you struggle to say no to people. You can’t turn someone down when they ask for a favour, perhaps because you struggle to explain that you won’t be able to do what they’ve asked in addition to what you already have on the go. Your goal is to get better at saying no. They say practice makes perfect, so a good way to start practicing is simply to say no. To yourself! Look in the mirror, listen to your pronunciation, practice saying it. Being comfortable performing an action is the first step in change. But this is not something I had previously considered. My education on how to change varied from that of my colleague.
Using the same example of wanting to be able to say “no” as a goal, there is another method of change that I was formerly unaware of. James Clear uses Logical Levels, and in particular the idea of forming an identity. We can imagine our hypothetical selves as someone who can say no, someone who is less of a pushover. “I say no to people!” Another thing to practice saying in front of the mirror. Adjusting your mindset is half the battle.
You can also associate this identity with a particular item of clothing or jewellery. “When I am wearing this ring, I can say no.” Like the Green Lantern, but without the terrible film. Associate this with the new identity that you want to adopt; the change you want to make. It can serve as a useful reminder of what you are trying to achieve, helping you to make the changes you yearn for: to achieve your goals.
Learned experience is another thing to consider. People have a wide range of experiences with change, and varying levels of change success. If all of the change initiatives you have ever encountered were successful, you will probably be a lot more comfortable with new ones.
However, someone who has seen change initiatives fail time and time again is likely to feel a lot more jaded and pessimistic about the whole thing. They may even have developed learned helplessness, a phenomenon in which people believe that there is nothing they can do to improve their situation, to such an extent that even when presented with options to improve it, they do not act on those options.
If you are working on a change initiative with people in this position, it is absolutely imperative that you work with them to ensure a successful change. Break the cycle! Ensure that this goal and future goals will be met!
Photo by Hakon Grimstad
Even after all of this is considered, people still have different temperaments and personalities under it all. So, even if two people do have the same lived experiences, and they interpret them in a similar manner, they are still unique people and will feel differently. You might be more risk averse, or more outgoing. You might value similarity or difference. We have our innate preferences, our underlying traits, personality, beliefs, and values. It’s important to understand how people will perceive and interpret change so that you can weigh the odds in favour of success.
So, the overarching point is that no two people will have the same understanding of how to go about implementing change, and this can cause issues when you’re trying to do just that. When we work with our clients, each person brings their unique “sonder” to the table, but it becomes even more complex when they all come together. We work with the team dynamics and the individual ones.
Not only does every company react uniquely and have their own approach to change, but every individual within that team also has a vast array of experience. Each of them has their own dataset of points from which they can extrapolate ideas about how the proposed changes will work. We all have to work together to ensure not only that the change is successful and goals are met, but that it also benefits everyone.
If you are in the position of leading a group through change, I have two things to say to you. The first is: good luck! The second is that you need to identify where the change education variation is within your team, so that you can foster everyone towards a positive change experience. Talk to your team about the change!
Are they looking forward to it?
Are they nervous?
What are their concerns?
Do they have the right training?
The more transparent and open you can be, the better your communication on change will be, so invite them to voice their concerns privately if they are uncomfortable doing so in a group.
Find joy in the complexity of your teams! You never know what lessons people's unique experiences could bring, and how they can add value and understanding to a challenge the group is facing.
If their concerns are a threat you hadn't considered, you can prepare to overcome it. If their concerns are something you can mitigate, this will calm their nerves and make them more comfortable.
Good luck with your change initiatives and goals, now and forever!