Perhaps you just asked a question at a committee meeting. The room went silent and at least one person pointedly explained to you that “We’ve always done it this way”. The rest of the group either chimed in or nodded their heads in arrogant approval. Some might even have glanced at you with that dismissive look of lost causes.
For many people change is painful. It doesn’t matter how silly their current path or how promising the opportunity of other possibilities. Change hurts. It is also painful to admit that what you have been doing needs to be changed. Accepting change means accepting the possibility that you are not currently doing things the best way.
While you bite your tongue or fume at that response consider this Top Ten List of the Real Meanings of “But we’ve always done it this way”.
What might people be thinking as they state that lame defense?
10. I haven’t got a clue why we do it this way and I never thought about it before. But I’m not going to admit that to you.
9. Your question is a good one. But I never asked it and wish that I had. As much as your question disturbs me I won’t admit that out loud.
8. You’re new aren’t you? You new people just want to change our perfect little world. We like it the way it is. We can outlast you.
7. How dare you question the wisdom of your predecessors? It was good enough for them why isn’t it good enough for you? Have you no blind respect and subservience to those who were here before you?
6. You clearly don’t know how we do things around here. It has nothing to do with logic, fairness and openness.
5. If you are a team player you will go along with us without asking embarrassing questions like that.
4. We don’t like questions like that. And right now I don’t like you for asking it.
3. Perhaps you believe that you have the right to ask questions… but you’re wrong. Shut up and go with the flow.
2. It’s working the way it is. Leave it alone. Can we go now?
1. Despite what you were told, this is not a democracy. We don’t care about your ideas. Just do what you are told to do. And do it the way that you are told to do it.
When you try to change things you will hear the response “But we’ve always done it this way.” Don’t hate people for that response. Consider the list above to understand what they might be feeling. Recognize that your questions might be disturbing them and they might not be ready to give you an honest and thoughtful answer.
“But we’ve always done it this way” is likely the response of a person who feels threatened.
When faced with this challenge you will need to find a less threatening way to make change. The other alternative is to expose the status quo as the bigger threat.