Accept the resistance

People often ask me what to do when their colleagues do not want to use social media. Or when they are OK with using social media in their private life, but not for work. How to make them accept a new tool and, with it, a new way of working together? How to make the resistance disappear? I have three answers to that.

My shortest answer is: don’t. Fighting resistance only makes it worse.

A somewhat longer answer is: focus on acceptance. Anything you give attention to, will grow. So if you pay a lot of attention to the resistance, it will become stronger. It is much wiser to feed the acceptance. Find your supporters and work with them. Find the early adopters and facilitate their experiments and their learning. Their fun and their success stories will convert others in due time. Yes, it will take time and hurrying it is not going to help you. I will explain why in the next part of this post.

This is the longest answer. Around 12 years ago, I stumbled upon a theory about the six stages people go through when they accept new technology. I have never found the source, but I find it very useful. I have been using it ever since in situations where people had to deal with a new tool that changed the way they did their work. It helps because it makes you see why people react differently to new technologies and it helps you understand what has to happen before they really dig it and you will start seeing the benefits. I’ll explain the six stages first and then how to deal with them. Remember: it is the people going through these stages, not the technology.

1. Denial. It is nothing, just the next fad, look at those crazy nerds. About Twitter: “I don’t want to know that you have slept well and that you are now having your first cup of coffee. Get to work!” Or about cell phones: “A cell phone is a form of incontinence. If you can hold your pee until the next bathroom, you can also hold your phone call until the next payphone.” People who are in denial can sometimes become very irritated with people in stage 2.

2. Play. It is fun. To stick with the incontinence theme a little longer: young parents know that when it comes to potty training, nothing works as well as making a game out of it. In the 80s and 90s, we had Home PC Projects. The company would get you a PC for use at home on very friendly terms. The idea was that you would play around with it and start to like it, so that you would then be much more positive about doing your work on a computer. Around 1980, one of the reasons the video tape standard VHS won the war against the competing Betamax was the fact that the porn industry had adopted VHS. Talk about play… When there is fun in using something new, you are willing to put up with a little frustration in the learning curve. Volkswagen knows this. The play stage will help you through the first difficulties and get you going.

3. Substitution. The substitution stage has two faces: copying and fear. The first serious use of the new technology involves copying the familiar into the new. When the first online stores opened up, the design was like a familiar brick-and-mortar store, but on the computer screen. Programmers went through great pains to design aisles and shelves. Of course, this was abandoned afterward, because it did not make sense. It hardly used the true possibilities of the computer. In the early days of the television, the news was read in front of the camera. It was not until later that a camera man and a reporter went out to capture the news itself as it happened.

The fear side is that people think that the new technology will replace what’s familiar. The movie would replace the theater, TV would replace books, and internet is going to replace real life contact. To a certain extent, some of that may happen, but not to the extent the substitutionists fear. Email has almost replaced the fax – but at a much slower rate than people thought.

Substitution has to do with letting go of the old – gradually. Taking some of the old world with you as you venture into the new world makes it easier. It is like your child’s favorite teddy bear that has to come to school on the first day.

4. Enrichment. After the substitution stage, users start to explore the real possibilities and advantages of the new tool. And they will get carried away. When people first start using desk top publishing software, they will make the wildest posters, brochures and postcards. Too many different typefaces, the most awful color combinations and a wild collection of graphics make it painful to the eye. Same thing with early webdesign. This is also a necessary stage, as people learn to use all the possibilities of the tool. When you are in a new place, you learn the lay of the land by roaming around. So that’s what people need to do.

5. Transformation. After substitution and enrichment, people are ready to use the tool appropriately. The usage is transforming from something special and unusual into something of normal proportions. But it is not routine yet. It still feels new, but you know what the dos and don’ts are and you know your way around with it.

6. Transparency. The sixth and final stage: the new tool has been integrated into your daily routine. It is nothing special, you don’t think twice about it. Using the tool has become transparent, you don’t even realize any more that you once found it a new and special thing. Until it is time for something new again…

Does everybody go through these six stages? Usually yes, but some may go real quickly. Seeing something new almost always gives a first reaction of strangeness. Even if you immediately see advantages, the first look will be a critical one.  How long these stages last is a very personal thing. Some people stay in denial or in play for much longer than others. Now the interesting question is: how can we make it go faster?

The answer is: by giving it time and by facilitating the stages. Putting on pressure will backfire. One reason is that the people who go through these stages have no idea that it is a stage they’re going through. Their view of reality is the truth. If you have ever tried to say to somebody: “You’re just in denial,” you will know what the answer is: “No I am not.” Each of the stages has a function. It is something people need to do before they can actually use the new technology to its max.

So what to do? The best you can do is facilitate the stages. Let people play around, let them copy their old ways, let them get carried away, and so on. Let them share experiences with each other. They will pull each other through and they will do it much better than you can. Facilitate mutual learning, give information, help where you can. Of course, sharing success stories also helps. But before anything else: accept and respect the six stages. They will happen anyway.

Oh – and if you are familiar with these six stages, I would love to know where they come from.

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About Koos de Heer

Consultant @ Van Aetsveld. Project doctor.
This entry was posted in Acceptance, Social Media. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Accept the resistance

  1. birgitt says:

    wonderful article Koos. I also like the by-line you have of ‘project doctor’. I recommend your teachings and your services.

  2. koosdhr says:

    Thank you Birgitt!

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