I know I’ve said it. I know I am not the only one. I am embarrassed by it.
We’ve tried that before!
There are several possible sources of this statement/sentiment, including, it really has been tried before!
- Often though, the resister sees similarities to what is being proposed and assumes it to be the same, or the communication about the change hasn’t been very successful and so the assumption is that the proposed change is the same as the past experience.
- On the other hand, if you and your team are in the habit of putting ideas, “that will never work,” in a permanent pile of discards, you’re almost certainly missing great opportunities.
- There’s a difference between, “that didn’t work once, under certain conditions,” and, “that will never work.”
Here are five strategies for dealing with this specific change resistance:
- Acknowledge their concerns. When you make your first step an acknowledgement of their concern (even if you don’t understand yet or agree), you change the dynamic of the conversation and reduce the resistance.
- Ask more questions. Stop short of selling your proposal. When you hear the “We’ve tried that before” comment, stop and ask what they are referring to. Seek to understand exactly what was tried, and what the results were from their perspective. You will build trust and better understand their concerns. You might even learn that they are right, and that insight could cause you to adapt or change your approach.
- Learn when it was tried (and what happened). Some people will remember a situation but forget that it was tried 15 years ago! Not only that, sometimes the results weren’t as negative as remembered, when the light of reflection is placed on that experience.
- Ask people what has changed. The world around you is different than when this approach was last tried – after all, a lot has changed in 15 years (or even 15 months)! I will often comment how much the world has changed since that last try. . . and the truth is the situation surrounding the change is likely different too. Once people see that the situations aren’t an “apples to apples” comparison, often some of the resistance will lessen.
- Ask people for their suggestions. Perhaps the approach is set, but even if that ship has sailed, there are likely tweaks that can be made to how a change is being implemented. Often when people’s resistance has been acknowledged and understood, they are far more likely to engage in the implementation of the change. Isn’t that what you wanted anyway?
It may be true that this change has been tried before.
It may also be true that the world and situation is different now, which means that the result may be different too.