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… :/