Acceptance – a common term in many areas
Acceptance refers to a person’s willingness to acknowledge or approve something – e.g. a fact, the behaviour of people or organisations, a decision or existing conditions.
Acceptance is a term that appears in many disciplines such as sociology, psychology, economics and political science. The term is also at least implicitly at home in numerous business disciplines such as project management, product development, requirements engineering, innovation management, change management or leadership. Accordingly, the meaning varies between recognition, confirmation, approval, agreement, concession, consent, endorsement or commitment. In the context of technologies, so-called acceptance research¹ investigates influencing factors and modes of action.
The difference between tolerance and acceptance
In social life and also in the professional context, there are always situations in which a distinction should be made between tolerance and acceptance.
Tolerance refers to the ability or willingness to (passively) allow something that you as an individual do not necessarily agree with or like. It means condoning something even if one does not approve of it.
Acceptance, on the other hand, means (actively) acknowledging and understanding something and possibly even accommodating it. It goes beyond tolerance because it means affirming something as it is, not just tolerating its existence.
For example, one might tolerate the neighbour’s loud music, but not fully approve of it. However, if one comes to understand and appreciate the neighbour’s music, one can fully accept it. In a professional setting, for example, one might bear (tolerate) or recognise as reasonable (accept) the decision of a management.
The change of acceptance in context and over time
The individual willingness to approve of a state of affairs, the behaviour of people and organisations or existing social, economic or political conditions can easily change depending on the context and over time. Acceptance is to a certain extent fluid, because people change their attitudes or judge aspects of coexistence differently at different points in time.
When a company introduces new software, for example, the individual benefit promotes the acceptance of those involved. If this benefit decreases in the course of use, the degree of acceptance for the product will presumably also decrease. If companies communicate decisions openly and honestly internally, this may increase the likelihood of acceptance by those affected. However, if aspects that change the communicated facts belatedly come to light, this can contribute to a new assessment by those affected.
Here it is also worth taking a look at acceptance research: it distinguishes between
- acceptance subject,
- acceptance object and
- acceptance context.
The subject is the actor, the object is the technology used and the context is the existing parameters. Against this background, various dimensions can be attributed to the concept of acceptance:
- attitude dimension,
- action dimension and
- normative dimension.
The attitude dimension describes whether the subject has a positive attitude towards the object. The action dimension examines whether actions result from the attitude. The normative dimension is also called the value dimension and is understood as a component of the attitude dimension.²
The acceptance of innovations or changes
Starting points for explaining acceptance are provided by the sociologist and communication researcher Everett Rogers with his book “Diffusion of Innovations”, published in 1962.³ Rogers described with a model how new products and ideas spread in a defined market or in a concrete community. According to Rogers’ model – also known as diffusion theory – the adoption of a new product or idea follows a bell curve, with a small group of innovators and risk takers adopting the product first, followed by a larger group of early adopters and finally the majority of the market. Rogers identified early adopters as a key group in the diffusion process, as they are more likely than the general population to try new products and technologies, and can also act as influential opinion leaders and multipliers in their social networks and communities.
Two points can be deduced from this:
- Acceptance of innovations is shaped by behavioural characteristics such as curiosity or risk-taking.
- It is not present all at once in all people or in all stakeholders; it develops and spreads over time.
Furthermore, acceptance also plays an important role in change, especially as it often presents challenges for people for different reasons:
- Fear of the unknown: Change often means moving into unknown territory, which can be scary for some people. They may worry about how they will adapt to the new situation and whether they will be able to cope.
- Loss of control: change can feel like a loss of control as people feel they are being forced to adapt to a new situation over which they had no control. This can be particularly challenging for those who are used to being in control and having a degree of predictability in their lives.
- Emotional attachment: Some people are emotionally attached to their current situation, whether it is a particular job, place or way of life. Change may require letting go of these attachments, which is difficult for some people.
- Difficulty adjusting: Some people find it difficult to adapt to new situations, even if they ultimately change for the better. It can take time and effort to get used to new routines and ways of doing things.
- Resistance to change: Some people resist change because they are happy with their current situation and see no need for it. This resistance can make it difficult for them to engage with and adapt to change.
From these different challenges it can be deduced that acceptance is individual and meets different situations and sensitivities. And this realisation leads to a defined acceptance management in many corporate areas and corporate disciplines.
Measures to increase acceptance in a professional context
Acceptance management deals with the planning and implementation of measures designed to promote acceptance of a product, process, development or changed situation among users or stakeholders. In many organisations, this approach takes place implicitly; the acceptance of decisions or situations by those affected is addressed through the application of methods or practices. Below are some examples from practice:
- Design thinking is an approach that is intended to lead to problem solving and the development of new ideas. The aim is to find solutions that are convincing from the user’s point of view on the one hand and market and product-oriented on the other.
- Requirements engineering is the systematic procedure of specifying and managing requirements for a system, product or software. A central part of this is dealing with stakeholders and their needs.
- Stakeholder management includes the identification, analysis and communication of and with stakeholders. It is a continuous task. Stakeholder identification is the first step in stakeholder management. It aims to identify all persons and organisations that are directly or indirectly affected by the company’s activities or have a concrete interest in these activities. It is the basis for stakeholder analysis and the foundation for stakeholder communication.
- Brainstorming is a creativity technique in which a group of people work together to try to solve a task by collecting and developing ideas.
Field observation determines findings about behaviours, activities and processes by observing target persons – with their consent – in their work environment.
- The Kano Model determines the relationship between customer satisfaction and the fulfilment of customer requirements by defining product features to which users react differently.
- The WOOP method defines a procedure for the planned realisation of personal wishes. WOOP stands for Wish, Outcome, Obstacle and Plan.
- User Experience (UX) describes a person’s perceptions and reactions when using a product, system or service. User Experience Design is actively concerned with the design and improvement of user experiences.
The list of methods and practices that implicitly deal with acceptance can be extended indefinitely. In addition, there are also approaches such as determining concrete acceptance criteria, working with a Definition of Done, using acceptance statements or using user acceptance tests that explicitly address the topic.
Impulse to discuss:
Does it make sense to introduce dedicated acceptance management in organisations, or are the methods and practices used sufficient to implicitly focus on acceptance?
Notes (partly in German):
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a form of psychotherapy that combines classic behavioural therapy techniques with mindfulness and acceptance-based strategies and values clarification interventions.
“The first step towards change is awareness. The second step is acceptance.” – this is how Nathaniel Branden, author of several books on self-esteem and conscious living, put it.
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