Change Pro-Tip: Reset

Change Pro-Tip: I sometimes will take an individual or group relationship of mine and ask for an explicit "reset".

It’s not a frequent solution, but when the circumstances are right, the rewards for doing it can be huge.

Early last year, I was in a wrangle with a person I’ve known for a few years. It wasn’t a crisis, exactly, but it wasn’t a happy or even neutral relationship. He called me, and as we spoke it became ever more clear to me that part of our problem was about our awkward history.

On instinct, during the call, I said, "Hey, ya know what? Let’s reset this thing. Going forward, we’ll let go of everything that’s happened, direct or indirect, in our relationship over the years. No holding on to old glitches, no opinions of each other derived from 3rd parties.

He accepted, with vigor, and later thanked me profusely for the idea. I wouldn’t say that we’re close, now, but we’re as relaxed around each other as we’ve ever been, and far more willing to exchange our ideas openly.

A reset like that is a kind of mutual suspension of distrust. It’s a "play like", as in "play like we haven’t built up all this cruft between us". To really work, it seems like it has to cut both ways, it has to be a joint decision.

Of course, a genuine total reset is virtually impossible. Human memory is in human bodies, and one can’t will it away by simple fiat. What one can do is make a conscious effort to end the old game and start a new one.

One thing a reset like this helps me do is let go of, idunno, "collateral assholery". This is where I (sometimes secretly) bust people for things that have nothing to do with our real issues & differences. Like, "she’s advocating feature branches, and P.S. her dog is stupid."

I never offer a reset to someone if I don’t think I can manage it. It’s not a ploy or a gambit. I rarely offer a reset to someone when I’m still scared of them.

When I offer, it’s surprisingly often taken as an act of reassurance. It’s a way for us to say "what we’re doing right now is more important & interesting than what we did before". There’s a kind of taking-seriously about it. I’ve had it received almost as if I’d given a hug.

I’ve used this in a variety of settings, from intra-team geekery stuff, to the larger context of the trade, a time or two in the agile movement, in political settings aside from the work, and of course in highly personal ones, too.

An important aspect: it doesn’t mean we won’t disagree or go at each other hammer & tong going forward. It just means that our arguments will be far more focused on what our disagreements really are. (I’m not suggesting unicorns farting rainbows here.)

And the truly odd thing? In the times & places someone has taken me up on my offer, I have never once felt that they betrayed the spirit or the intent of the reset. That’s an amazing thing.

It’s not an everyday thing to propose reset. I can’t think of a time I’ve used it to the same person or group twice. There’s a kind of one-bullet-gun-ness about it. I wouldn’t call it a trick. It’s just a way of thinking & talking I use from time to time to find a way forward.

Anyway, give it a mull. Maybe give it a try some time. I can certainly attest that the times I’ve gone that route the worst I got was net-zero, and the best I got was a lovely effloresence, almost an entirely new relationship.

It’s Friday night, and — BREAKING — it’s BLT’s for dinner! I hope you have a favorite food tonight, and a mellow ride into a great weekend!

Seeya ’round!


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