Recently, while editing for a Docforce client, I came across some research that described a phenomenon that will be familiar to most people leaders: employees hate change. Changing the way you do things can be hard. It can also be boring, and often – if your change involves doing a lot of things you’ve never done before and so don’t know how to do – a deeply uncomfortable process.

In the workplace, new or modified tools and processes for getting things done are usually the first things we have to adapt to. These tools and processes pave the way for other changes that we see over time, such as changes in how we act, speak, and write, our company policies, and where we work. Change is how we got where we are right now. But sometimes the onslaught can feel overwhelming. This latest app we are suddenly now all using? Another upgrade of that thing?

‘I know you just landed in Winterfell and have never worked with dragonglass before, but I need this on my desk by Monday.’

It’s Not Just You

Maybe you think that everybody else finds picking up new tools and processes as easy as breathing. Maybe you sense an expectation that in this hyper-connected society we should all just know how to do new stuff, and get it right first time. Maybe you worry about being left behind: that it’s just you who prefers doing it the old way (read: the easier way).

It’s not. Humans have always formed weird, emotional attachments to the familiar, and emotional relationships with tools. (Consider the Luddites.) Boiler installation folk like working with a certain type of boiler. Bricklayers prefer a certain type of stone. Interior decorators sulk when their clients want them to use the fancy new paint they keep seeing on Instagram. Why? Because they know that paint is difficult to apply, takes longer to dry, and requires an awful lot of fiddling around with to get right. Which is to say: they worry they might end up not getting the expected performance out of it. They worry they might end up letting someone down,

But Change We Must

This idea – letting someone down, whether it’s a client, a manager, or just yourself – is pretty central to the resistance and worry we can feel when faced with the new. This is because somewhere along the line we have repeated the same task with such-and-such a tool or process enough times to get to a stage where this way of doing it has come to represent a kind of safety. If the old tool escorts us reliably through our comfort zone towards our final destination (our paycheck, our result), then the new way of doing something can represent a kind of danger zone. If you’re finding it hard to quell the rumbling background anxiety about working with your new tool or process, consider these five tips for getting up to speed.

Tip #1: Just jump in

When I first started out in the technical communications industry, I was far too nervous to start poking around in the documentation management system on my own. Creating objects, moving them around a structure – unsupervised? My fear was that I would delete something in error, or accidentally open and modify somebody else’s work. I did not want my green pawprints left lying around. My manager told me, ‘Don’t worry. Just jump in. You can’t break anything.’

The bottom must be just below the rim… right?

Reader, I managed to break something. And yes, my digital prints were all over it. But as my manager kindly pointed out, all that this meant was that there was a bug in the system and that my inexpert fumbling around had managed to highlight it. So the ‘just jump in’ approach is still the best. You might break something, but soon somebody will come along to set it, and you, right. Which leads me to my next tip nicely.

Tip #2: Rope in an expert

Learn from the best.

If you’re stuck on a particular issue with the tool or task, and can’t find a way out, ask yourself who can help you. Figure out who the expert is. (You’ll know because you’ll find yourself wishing you were them.) True experts won’t mind demonstrating their knowledge at all, because they understand their subject from every possible angle, including the beginner’s. They are usually self-confessed subject matter nerds who will be delighted – even flattered – to be approached. But a word of caution here: make good use of that approach. Don’t be tempted to let the expert demonstrate the task. Instead, invite them to pull up a seat at your desk (or share your own screen if you work remotely) and ask them to watch while you do it.

Tip #3: Let time do its thing

“There is always time for another last minute” 
― Terry Pratchett

This one’s hard. It involves accepting that time has to pass and that you must endure a certain amount of pain with the new tool or process while you try and fail to accomplish something. Most people misquote Samuel Beckett at this point. Some people call this stage ramping up, pivoting your approach…Whatever. This is the undignified part, where you fall often. You can also just think of it as ‘growing older.’

Tip #4: Do more than just the basics

Just don’t try juggling your computer in a similar manner.

At some point, once a little time has passed, you’re going to hit a certain level of competence with the new tool. Your fear and dislike of it will fade, and you’ll start feeling like you know what to expect. Now it’s time to push yourself. There are likely great ‘pro’ features hiding within it that somebody has designed for a reason. Find them out and make use of them – here, YouTube tutorials are your friend. (Also consider roping back in that expert.)

Tip #5: Teach someone else

Don’t try this one at home, unless you’re an expert!

Yes – your time will come. Sooner or later, you too will be called upon to help somebody else out and show them how to find their feet with the tool. What happens if you feel you still don’t know enough, aren’t fast enough? It might surprise you to find out that you know more than you think: sometimes, the act of explaining the basics to another can trigger the realisation that you’ve come pretty far. And if you can’t find the answer your pupil needs, you can be honest and suggest working together to figure out how to crack the problem. Either way, your teaching approach will be rooted in empathy and I’ve-been-there-ness. And we all need more of that!

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