Resistance Against Change as a Way to Save Face

Every once in a while I have an epiphany/experience of the “Oh. So THAT’s what it feels like…” variety, such as the one about giving unsolicited advice. This January I had the (mis)fortune to have another empathy epiphany handed to me on a silver plate:

It was a Wednesday evening and my company was having its monthly Knit Night. A Knit Night consists of lots of yarn and people knitting or crocheting. And beer. Banisters might end with a knitted cozy as a result.

I had just (re)joined the company and it was my first Knit Night. In the middle of it, one colleague glanced over at me and was like: “You’ve got a weird way of knitting. What ARE you doing?”

“Um, stockinette stitch (German: ‘glatt rechts’)? Knit one row, purl one row, knit one row, …?”
As my colleagues were quick to point out, it wasn’t “normal” knitting, but twisted [sic!] knitting (German: ‘rechts verschränkt’).

Colleague 1: “Who taught you knitting?”
Colleague 2: “No one, apparently.”

Ouch! That hurt. A lot. Which is surprising given that knitting does NOT define me in any important  way:

  • I have not invested years of my life into practicing it
  • I’ve never earned money with it
  • I’ve never considered myself an expert
  • If someone asked me to describe myself, I wouldn’t even consider “knitting”. It’s just something I’ve “always” been able to do. Or not 😉
  • I’ve only knitted minor stuff like scarves and such. My biggest knitting accomplishment is this Scotty hat for my husband:

So, if finding out that I’ve done something wrong my whole life that is not important to me or my self-image drags me down for 4 days, what must it be like for professionals when a consultant or coach swoops in? Someone telling an experienced project manager that 120% utilization is not the way to go, but WIP limits are? Someone suggesting to developers that writing tests is an integral part of their job? Does it matter that the message is helpful, if accepting it might invalidate years of my work life and adopted practices? How much resistance stems from protecting self-image and -worth?

I’ve always been aware that it’s hard to let go of old notions, but I’ve never fully understood how adopting new practices might invalidate former work and experiences.

So, I was fortunate to learn this feeling on such a very small scale. It still hurt surprisingly much. Hopefully I can now relate to the feeling on a grander scale.

The other day, Sandy Mamoli tweeted:

One of the most important skills as an Agile consultant is to allow people to change their minds without making them feel stupid!

My addition is:

Give people the opportunity to take up helpful new methods without invalidating years of their work life and experience.

Now I “just” need to figure out how to become better in doing that… :/

3 Comments Resistance Against Change as a Way to Save Face

  1. Andrea Heck


    this is a very true observation that we cannot value enough as agile coaches.

    I have run into this myself, and caused bad feelings in teams when we first transitioned to agile, and I explained why some practices had to be changed. Today, I hope, I am more careful, and rather present new practices they want to try because others have succeeded in trying them, and not because their current practices are bad.

    Thanks for this nice blog post!

  2. James

    Here’s the thing. Im my organisation call centre workers are managed based on adherence to roster. The roster is a plan, based on a forecast of customer demand, telling staff when to be available to take calls, and organising when they can spend there time on other activities. Managers believe that this is a customer focused approach. They seek to maximise adherence to roster, and they reward staff for doing so. However it takes no account of real demand – just forecast demand. I would argue that when the forecast is wrong it is right to move away from the plan to help the actual customers, but this systems prioritises the hypothetical customers in the forecast above the real customers on the phone (or any other change in circumstances not accounted for in the plan.)
    It’s idiotic.

    Any suggestions about how to address this folly without making those who implement it feel foolish.

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