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Continuing on the topic of crafting communication around change, some proposals will require a showdown for participants to directly wrestle with a new idea. Resolving concerns requires a lot of up-front preparation, and being open to negotiation.

Anthropologist Angeles Arrien identified four universal rules for effective communications, which could be considered to come into play here. Essentially, they involve risk and influence, but not total control:

Show up and choose to be present

Pay attention to what has heart and meaning

Tell the truth without blame or judgment

Be open to outcome, not attached to outcome

As a change instigator, having had time to prepare will help you remain in control of one thing – your own demeanor. Composure, as my acquaintance Mary Pool used to say, is power.

That power includes the ability to lower anxiety in others, who may be provoked since the idea of change causes discomfort. The more prepared, respectful, and unruffled you can be, the greater likelihood of ruling the day.

Although most people dislike confrontation, Buy-In authors John Kotter and Lorne Whitehead encourage welcoming objections so they can be resolved.

Their tips, primarily for meetings, were summarized in an Amazon.com comment by management consultant Robert Morris:

  • Those who oppose an idea should have the opportunity to explain their objections.
  • Their participation in the discussion should be welcomed, and treated with respect.
  • Before responding to an objection, offer reassurance that you understand it. Then offer a response that is direct, relevant, crystal clear, and sensible.
  • Over time, win opponents’ minds with logic and evidence and their hearts with respect.
  • Maintain frequent and cordial contact with opponents whom you respect; meanwhile, keep an eye on the few attackers who are potentially disruptive.

Although these tips are aimed for public meetings, they can be adapted to moves within an organization. For instance, tracking opinion correlates to taking climate surveys of employees’ moods.

As to considerations about what should be proposed, and who should do it, I offer a couple of parting words of advice.

I have learned through starting a press club that surveying people about what activities they want does not correlate to what they choose to participate in, after all. A better indicator of likely choices comes from modeling the experiences of similar organizations.

Meanwhile, more important than precise wording is who communicates the change, and in what form. Audiences will form an opinion that rests largely on the impressions created by the messenger and the delivery.

The final installment deals with reinforcing desired behavior once agreement has been reached.

 

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I’ve heard it said that change begins by asking questions.

Some early questions may just involve assessing what reactions to a shift may be likely, and why.

Say communications has just become more formal and emphasized. Perhaps there is an instance of someone implementing their own outreach, or another of someone disparaging the aspirations.

Probe and you may find the first person simply didn’t know who to turn to and found it easier to just do it themselves, while the second person tends to strive for new accomplishments and is forestalling dashed expectations.

It’s helpful to recall that different people have different motivations, based on what matters to them.  Since most people are generally just trying to take care of themselves, anticipate a range of reactions.

Culture matters

Your assessment will suggest how to mold and shape the environment to reinforce desired behavior, such as these steps:

  • Link the change to values expressed by the prevailing culture
  • Enlist influential champions to demonstrate support, and
  • Look for chances for a respected leader to mention the new priorities

A soft touch may engender less resistance, and repeated exposure to the idea can help “socialize” it.   Altogether, such measures help percolate the change throughout the organization.

Meanwhile, in individual contacts, ask  questions. That allows people to consider alternatives and shift their position without feeling pressured, as well as providing time to adjust.

There are typically three reactions to new developments. About 10 percent of folks have a propensity to take a negative view. Another 10 percent seize opportunities. The remaining 80 percent are relatively neutral and open-minded.

Emotions behind those reactions must be acknowledged before new information can be absorbed. A few folks will resist out of fear. A few will embrace change early on. Many others will be somewhere in the middle, slightly confused or uncertain.

Recognize the temporary discomfort change causes, and then provide avenues for discussion. This phase could be compared to the hashing-out that occurs during political campaigns, say, by holding a debate prior to people casting a vote.

Use existing channels and new ones, such as dedicated Q&A sessions and email.

People will begin looking for concrete information, such as an explanation of how decisions are being made, the timetable and rationale.

Next: Facing naysayers

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Introduction

I love the outdoors and have learned to not mind much if I don’t reach an ultimate endpoint when weeding. I’ve discovered, as friends used to say when doing dishes, it’s the process, not the goal.

Change communications has a similar rhythm. The need is part of natural cycles, since organizations must adapt and evolve to survive. Sometimes change communications efforts are more intense and concerted, other times they are quiescent but never far off.

Coming up

I’ll be sharing tips I’ve gleaned as a point person during dramatic changes in direction and traumatic retrenching.

It’s helpful to remember that change communications affects behavior, so it needs to win people’s hearts and minds. There are roughly three approaches, that range from subtle to overt, that taken as a whole facilitate moving people forward.

In a global sense, change can be encouraged by shaping the environment and reinforcing desired actions. This effectively coaxes people to new behavior without provoking resistance. Other times, people need to openly air issues in order to adjust and come to terms with new directions.

Meanwhile, advocates will encounter chances to nudge people to do what they know they should. Such gradual shifts can be a bit like performing aikido, where you take the other person’s momentum and redirect it.

The next few installments will discuss these pointers in more detail, so stay tuned. And please be willing to share your change story or challenge. Change can be painful at times. But as a wise adviser to those dish-washing friends liked to say, without pain, how can we grow?

 

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