Top Ten Interpersonal Skills – 10 – Change Happens In Stages
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!)