Top Ten Interpersonal Skills – 10 – Change Happens In Stages

Ideas. Insight. Inspiration.

Top Ten Interpersonal Skills – 10 – Change Happens In Stages

August 26, 2009 Life Skills Persuasion 7

Number 10

I’m blogging about the Top Ten Interpersonal Communication Skills, and this is #10 in the series.

Change Happens In Stages

People don’t suddenly change their behavior.  First they have to change their mind. But first they have to know that change is an option.  So change happens in stages, and the first stage is ignorance.

Ignorance is that state of mind where you don’t know what you don’t know. There are three kinds of ignorance that keep people from changing.

They don’t know change is an option.

They don’t know why they should choose change.

They don’t know how to go about it.

I assume ignorance any time I want to help someone change. It may not to be true, so I pay attention for signals that people are farther along than I supposed.  But the value of assuming ignorance is that it forces you not to get too far ahead of yourself, and serves as a reminder to speak clearly, carefully, and coherently in order to bring someone to the next stage, recognition.

Recognition is that moment when people see the light, and it beckons them on.  The result of recognition is that you begin to seek out and become receptive to new information about options, opportunities and possibilities, and you start asking questions about how to go forward. If someone can provide what was missing and you go to the next stage, planning.

Planning is the mentoring and modeling stage, where a person begins to organize the new information, access resources, and plot a course. Many change efforts fail in this stage, because preparation was insufficient. That’s not a signal to jump to the worst conclusions (they didn’t really mean it, they’re incapable of change, etc.) but instead, identify the area of ignorance and restart the cycle.

With a plan in place, you can move forward, one step at a time.  People need a lot of reassurance and encouragement to go forward.  Without this, they may lose heart, lose faith, give up, give in, and fall back to familiar territory.   Don’t be surprised if there are a few false starts, because when people try something new, things rarely go as expected.

Beginning a change takes a lot more energy than sustaining it, yet it’s still necessary to sustain a change for it to become permanent.  You can’t just walk away believing the situation is handled.  Well, you can, but you’d be mistaken.  Human beings are creatures of habit, and habit is created through repetition and intensity. Until someone can do something new without thinking about it, you’re still in the stage 5 of the change process.

It is a mistake to expect people to go from ignorance to action in a single step. That kind of expectation is likely to introduce too dissonance, with the result that nothing changes, or change doesn’t last.  Instead, don’t push the river, as they say.  Patience is truly a virtue.  Because change happens one stage at a time.

I’d love to change you from a reader to a responder.  Right now, just think about what you might comment on.  Got it?  Great!  Now, think about when you might comment on it.  Got it?  Cool.  Next, go ahead and comment!  Your comments are always welcome (and the more you comment, the easier it will get!)

Be well,



7 Responses

  1. Guest says:

    Your detailed “step by step” article is great! One feels like you take a person by its hand and move him/her one step ahead, if change is welcome to this person. The explanations of HOW a change has to take place is very motivating and clear. You should write about it more often so one doesn´t forget!! Thanks for this article, Rick!

  2. Dr. K says:

    🙂 Thank you! I appreciate the feedback AND the comment! Please come back and comment again!

    And you cut right to the chase, when you said ‘if change is welcome to this person.’ That’s the key. A persuasive opportunity, right?

    best wishes,

  3. Guest says:

    Absolutely right, Rick.
    But still, as you wrote, many only “think” of change and maybe put a note somewhere as a reminder for this future aim, but still need the personal kick TO GO FOR IT. That´s the tough step.Self motivation is hard once you got stock in a well-known comfort zone of daily routine and only potential changes in your mind, but not in your life. People mostly need a fellow to follow or to pull and push with them…. interesting why it is so hard to do that by oneself.
    Don´t wanna think about the aim to lead a whole nation into the direction of change. But at least: there´s is a fellow to follow ;o)
    Enjoy the weekend.

  4. Dr. K says:

    It does help to have help. I think that’s the design of life, actually, that it all works out when we help each other out.

    Might as well put a plug in here. I do coaching along these lines, helping my clients to find the motivation to do what’s necessary today to have that better tomorrow.

    That said, I will reiterate that I believe it pretty accurate that there are only three reasons why people don’t make positive changes in their lives, work and organizations: Don’t know what to do Don’t know how to do it Don’t know why (specifically, personally) And all of these unknowns can be clarified without too much trouble if you have a viable process.

    Best wishes,

    Thanks for the comment!
    best wishes,

  5. Guest says:

    Thanks for the plug Rick,
    I already have it on my list for March 2010 – unless I decide to go for phone-sessions, before that. I read the interview at the web-page yesterday and now I know your past/source of ability a lot better. Very interesting!
    I do need to improve my persuasive skills which are mostly down to zero but sometimes up to 100%. There is almost no “grey zone”.
    How come? –> If I really WANT something, I get it. 95% – almost always.
    My prob is rather having no clear aim for something I would like to want and which is reachable. That´s the missing step BEFORE I ask/go for change. Where heading to?

    Say: how do you lead a customer into an unknown future? –> security changes to insecurity.
    Please, write about it! Throw a little bait into the crowd!
    Maybe there´s a past example? Just an idea!

  6. Dr. K says:

    Thanks for the comment, and I hope to hear from you in March 2010 or before!

    Having no clear aim is a bit of a problem. I encourage people to have an inkling, nothing more, in such situations. Like driving in a fog, all you can see is what’s directly in front of you, and in that case, you aim at the NEXT OBVIOUS THING!

    How do you lead a customer into an unknown future? Hmm. First thing I think of is that the future is ALWAYS unknown and unknowable, and that we make our best guess and aim for that. I tend to use the approach, ‘plan for the best, expect the worst’ and to develop a best case worst case scenario in approaching the unknown. If your customer is concerned, I would honor those concerns and do a best case worst case scenario with him/her. There is no security in this life. That’s why Ben Franklin valued freedom over security, and cautioned ‘those who would exchange their freedom for security deserve neither.’

    Best wishes,

  7. Guest says:

    Interesting advices!

    1: the inkling and the description of how someone would only spot the next obvious thing in the fog. That´s true!
    2: best case <-> worst case scenario, good idea. I know the rule of thinkin gof the worst case scenario, which kept me trying/moving a lot. But I was never quite detailed.

    As to Benjamin Franklin´s words I am at the stage of thinking to exchange security to freedom or add some freedom to the basis of security.
    All in all, thanks for he good advice!!!

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