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How to talk about change and get a positive response

Article by: Jean Gamester | Published: 17 February 2017
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Anyone who is leading in an organisation or running their own business is going to need to make some kind of change happen at some point. The beauty of being in charge is that you tend to know what is going on and can influence it. Most of the people you lead aren’t going to feel that way, unless you do something about it. By Jean Gamester from Semaphora.

What is most important is that you make sure that those that you lead feel they are being kept informed and that they have a say too. You’re going to need their involvement to make these changes work in the long run, so get started by talking about it. Having helped many companies communicate change, here is Jean’s advice: It is critical to start off with the reasons for why you are making your change. It is connecting with a higher purpose that you will inspire people to take action.  In order to talk about the “why”, you need to be really clear about what that purpose is. What is it that your business, your team is there for, really?  How is it making the world a better place?  And how will the changes you want to make serve that higher purpose?

Once you have worked that out, share it with your people, and keep sharing it. One of the most common mistakes leaders make when communicating is that they are totally focussed on what they want to say, but you can’t reach the audience if you aren’t talking about what they want to hear about.  When change happens, your people may feel threatened, overwhelmed, out of control, or they might block it out altogether in the hope it will go away. If you don’t deal with their concerns, you don’t get to get heard at all. Your people will want to understand what you think will change, when it will happen and what it means for their jobs and their work. 

I often hear leaders saying “I don’t know why they say they don’t know what’s going on – I told them ages ago”.  The fact is, telling people once is not enough. Your people are constantly faced with huge volumes of information and only a fraction of it is the information you share. If you describe a change, they will talk with their colleagues about it afterwards. They will start to interpret what you have said and imagine what it means. In no time at all those interpretations and imaginings become pseudo-facts. The only way to minimise this is to keep talking – using all the channels available to you.   Make sure the managers and team leaders are equipped with the correct information so that they can get it right when their teams come to them.

How will you know you are doing enough? I would say you are delivering at the right level when you start hearing some people complain that you are communicating too much. You’re at the right level when you run an information session, then when you are finished there are no questions at all because people understand all they have heard. A lot of leaders get nervous about talking about change. That’s not surprising – change is an unpredictable, creative thing and we don’t feel fully in control. My advice is to accept you are not fully in control, just focus on the reasons you are making the change, on what is going on for your people. And most of all, keep talking, keep listening all the way through – that way you, your people and your organisation will triumph and transform.