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Words Make An Impact

Published by Douglas Flory

Originally published here

As Change Practitioners/Managers/Leaders/Experts, we often ‘translate’ technical jargon into ‘everyday’ terms for our audience to understand what is expected. We do this in our roles to help others succeed before, during, and after the launch of ‘the new’.

We also promote empathy, inclusion, and an understanding of cultural perspectives in our work. These three attributes add value to connecting with our audience. They are, and should continue to be, key elements to consider in the ‘people side of change’.

Our work is complex, personal, unique, and at some times makes us cringe in the corner (hopefully not that often!). It is common to cite a statistic that “70% of all changes fail.” When another layer is added that “Change is hard” plus the taxonomy of “Change Fatigue”, In doing so, I propose that we are negatively compounding the issue 3x through our own actions.
of ‘the new’.

“70% of all change efforts fail” +
“Change is Hard” + “Change Fatigue”
= 3X Change Impact

However, we can do something about it…

“Change is Hard.”

Ok, yes change has its challenges and is multi-faceted. It is unique in most scenarios so you need to tailor your approach compared to “1 size fits all”. Change is also very personal when we ask people to trust us and change their habits/routines that they are accustomed. Nor is it always convenient or the best timing for it to occur.

As humans, we tend to want to operate in a zone of comfort. Our brains are constantly thinking and processing while they are also seeking to address ‘fight or flight’ so that we can have some degree of peace. Thus, we instinctively seek the most common or easy way of learning something; it then becomes a path toward our intrinsic habits and routines as our brains seek a model of efficiency. See how this occurs via the Ladder of Inference Model.

Perhaps we have inadvertently exchanged words that reflect layers such as difficult, time-consuming, or not fun to simplify our intent to mean ‘hard’?

The reality is that we change all the time.

  • My children and I just logged into Disney+ and found a variety of new movies to watch – yeah!
  • Last month my friend decided to change jobs as part of the ‘great resignation’
  • On our recent date, my wife changed her order after it was told to the waiter
  • My daughter’s phone just updated to the latest iOS and she moved forward without a sweat


Navigating change is possible. It may be complex or take time, but can be done with a growth mindset, persistence, and strategy. Thus, “Change is Complex” and the hard part is the unlearning/re-learning when we go through the process to make a change.

If We Continue to Use the Terminology “Change Fatigue”, What Does That Term Convey to Our Audience?

First, let me be clear in that I do recognize how each person has a capacity and a threshold as distinct benchmarks. I am not suggesting that Change Fatigue is fictional or trendy, it can happen. My theory is that our words matter when we continually utilize the same language and our audience reads it repeatedly. I fully understand the intention and why of these 2 words together, but what is their impact?

From the work of Psychologist Albert Bandura over 50 years ago, we know that Social Learning Theory is a key factor in our daily world. We also know that we have ~50 self biases that influence our thinking.

Therefore, if we continually read/hear/see the words ‘Change Fatigue’, then wouldn’t that lead to increased adoption of the terminology and sentiment? I don’t think that is the type of adoption we seek.’

Like our muscles of the human body, we have to exercise to get them stronger and build their endurance. As we begin to do this, we may experience soreness, exhaustion, and a sense of being overwhelmed, and tired. That is when we are growing and learning new muscle memory.

Hence, when we are not open to change, we are going to be challenged and feel ‘Change Fatigue’. When we experience change on an ongoing basis, we become more resilient and confident in enduring the frequency/amount of time needed for changes to occur.

Instead, what if we started substituting 1 word: “Change Fatigue” –> “Change Resilience”?

  • When you read “Change Fatigue” how do you feel? react? think?
  • When you read “Change Resilience” how do you feel? react? think?

“70% of All Change Efforts Fail.”

Well, then why try? Have we heard that response from stakeholders before?

This math equates to only 3 out of 10 projects that will have positive results and ROI. As we make this statement, we are trying to sell the fact that Change Management is a necessary ingredient of the recipe. Is it possible that our clients, customers, and audiences are hearing this statement and entering with pre-judged thoughts about managing change?

How we define or characterize ‘success’ and/or ‘failure’ is a paramount step in our strategy. If we do not do this, then we risk how others will interpret the results and we are then managing their expectation of ‘success’ in a reactive manner.

There are many reasons that failure can occur. Below are a few from my professional experiences:

  • the strategy/plan was great, but the execution was poor
  • the type of change leader experience did not align with
  • the theme of the project, such as a digital transformation when it was a cultural transformation
  • available resources, consistent application of tools, change in scope
  • lack of an engaged, pro-active sponsor at the right levels of the company
  • inexperienced talent that has not experienced this type/magnitude of change previously
  • shiny object syndrome where our scope and/or focus continues to change