Today, we are going to cover the topic of choosing the right communication style when communicating change. This is something that is a very simple concept, but companies get it wrong so often. If you learn this concept today and commit it to your memory, I promise it will pay off at some point in your career.
Let me start by giving a quick lesson on the change curve. This is the process we all go through when faced by change. Everybody goes through these steps every time. Some people go through the steps faster than others. Even the same person might go through the steps at a different pace for different changes. We did a series on each of these phases, so if you want to dive deeper into the phases, I encourage you to go back and listen to episodes 13-16.
Episode 13: Components of Change Management: Awareness
Episode 14: Components of Change Management: Desire
Episode 15: Components of Change Management: Knowledge
Episode 16: Components of Change Management: Ability & Reinforcement
Think about a major change that you’ve gone through in your past. When you became aware of the change, how did you feel? You may have felt betrayed or you may have been in denial. Your head was probably spinning with thoughts of ‘what does this mean?” and all of the different concerns you have about the change. Your mind is going 80 miles per hour – with lots of questions. You are in a bit of a fog best case, and you could be really emotional worst case.
Because of the state of mind you are in at the time you become aware of the change, the best communication style is an informative one. Just the facts. Keep it simple. With everything else going on in your mind, there isn’t room for a lot of additional information. And, in the event the change is really big, you don’t want to hear a lot of inspirational talk. It will feel insincere. So, at the start of a change curve, communication needs to be informative.
As you work through the Desire phase and into the Knowledge phase, you begin to move into what is called Identify Crisis. At this point, your head isn’t spinning about the change and you are starting to understand what your new world will look like, but there are still a lot of unknowns so you are still unsure of your ability to step into the change. During this identity crisis phase, the best communication style is supportive. Communication needs to be softer than just the facts. It needs to give a sense of support for the impact it is having on employees. It should reinforce that the change process is normal, everyone goes through it at their own pace, and that nobody is going to be left behind. It should also be supportive in the literal sense. Provide resources people need to gain knowledge about the change and clearly outline the process they should follow if they need more support.
Finally, as you move out of knowledge and into ability, you are starting to gain a new identity. You are searching for solutions about how you will operate in the new normal. At this point, communication should be inspirational. This is when you start to paint a picture of the new world and how much better it will be than the old one. This is the time to celebrate the change. Trying to communicate inspirationally when you first announce a change will fall on deaf ears because there are more immediate needs at that time. But, one everyone has gotten through their initial shock and been able to get a better picture in their mind about how their world is going to change, they will be ready for an inspirational message to help propel them forward with confidence.
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