Last weekend I packed up my two cats and drove them from our little house with an idyllic backyard in Lancaster, Pennsylvania—a small Colonial city surrounded by Amish country—to a sublet in South Philly, which had, up until literally the moment I arrived, been occupied by two other cats. After a week of injustices—their stuff boxed up, their furniture taken away, my husband (their favorite) off to a conference in England—this was the last straw. One stayed under the bed for a full 24 hours. The other violently threw himself against a closed window, attempting to will his body through the glass. Both were plainly terrified. Can you blame them? After all, we humans aren’t so different. Change is scary. And when big changes stack up all at once, we’re likely to go into shock and behave exactly the same: either we publicly freak, or we retreat into hiding. If you’re the one tasked with getting people on board for big web projects, you’ve probably seen it happen. Midway through implementing the new CMS, so-and-so digs in his heels and demands his process stay exactly the same, refusing to even look at the plans for the new interface. The project lead gives up on managing his 74 internal stakeholders, and now you’re trying to cater to each of their 74 different whims instead. The VP has heard too many conflicting opinions, so she refuses to make any decision at all. We often roll our eyes at this stuff. We complain about how they “just don’t get it.” We call them irrational, irritating, and difficult. Perhaps they are. But humans are irrational, irritating, and difficult—all of us, not just our clients and bosses. It’s a lot more useful to let go of the petty annoyances and consider why they’re acting that way. What are they scared of? Have we been pushing our agenda too hard, too fast? Do they feel in the dark and confused? Do they just need some time to breathe, to look around, to get more comfortable? If you’re used to the idea of the web changing quickly, then all this endless ego-soothing and placating—this talking around the problem instead of digging in to solve it—might seem silly, like a big fat waste of time. But many of the people we work with haven’t been living and breathing this stuff for years. The changes we propose, even when they seem minor to us, can feel positively monumental to them. We like to think that our jobs are just designing and building, but they’re not. If we want to do our best work, we have to also bring others along with us, and ease them through the painful adjustments our work necessitates. We have to give them the time and space to get comfortable, to crawl out of their hiding spots on their own terms. After all, the web won’t stop changing, and change won’t stop being scary. If we’re not going to do something about it, why are we here?
11 Jul 2013