Helping Yourself and Others Work Through Change

One useful tool to help ourselves and others work through changes in society, respond to new concepts, and even to understand how we relate to different people, is to locate ourselves and others using five typical roles: Innovator, Change Agent, Pragmatist, Sceptic, (Skeptic in North America), and Traditionalist.

Based on Marilyn Loden’s Diversity Adoption Process, and applicable to a wide range of change processes, the skill is using this tool is both understanding your own motivation and that of others.

  • Innovators like to be on the leading edge of change, to explore and invent opportunities. They tend to be idealistic, see the change as a creative opportunity and like to try new things
  • Change Agents like to influence and lead change once they have understood it. They are interested in exploring opportunities and issues, to test new ideas, and see the change as good for people.
  • Pragmatists are more Cautious about exploring opportunities and issues, and prefer to follow at a safe distance. They can be more suspicious of new ideas and change and needs to see the practical benefits – what’s in it for me, and what’s in it for the organisation?
  • Sceptics or Skeptics see the change, as risky, potentially harmful and moving too fast. They are more reluctant to explore opportunities and will only accept the change once it has been shown to have proven popularity and acceptance with the majority or mainstream.
  • Traditionals want to avoid the change altogether. They can be pessimistic, resistant, even hostile, seeing the change as dangerous, a threat to the status quo. They can rely on the past and selective information to disprove the value of the change.

Think of an issue that you see as a change in your life, or in the world around you – your work, the wider society, or the planet, and calibrate your response – for example, climate change (or choose any issue that is important to you at this time). Using the five roles above, where would you place yourself in response to this issue? Where would you place others with whom you would like to communicate about this issue? How might you take into account the motivations of someone with a different response to yours as you consider how to communicate with them?

For example, if you are a change agent, and the value of the change is obvious to you, trying to convince someone who is sceptical using the logic that makes sense to you but not to them, won’t work. We have all seen change agents in positions of power and influence enthusiastically promote the message that “this change is good” – only to have others around them (typically a majority of groups are pragmatists and sceptics) not come on board because the reasoning that will convince the pragmatists and sceptics is missing. At the same time, it can be tempting to think that being at traditionalist is somehow bad because they are holding back change – and yet for many people, cultures, and organisations, and movements, tradition is important and powerful. Consider too that our responses can be different on different issues – you may be a change agent regarding seeing more women in positions of leadership, power, and influence, and a traditionalist regarding non-binary gender identity and expression.

Understanding your own motivations and responses to an issue that involves change, and learning with interest about the motivations and responses of others, is of great value in strengthening your ability to work well with others and in forging deeper connections for creating lasting and practical solutions.

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