Communicating Effectively in Times of Change

Change is unavoidable — it’s part of life.

People see the benefits for it, yet organizations often become hijacked by themselves in trying to “manage” change. As leaders, we must embrace change as an opportunity for growth. Your staff, however, may not see it that way — at least not at first.

Change is messy and it’s unsettling. It is often even fear-evoking among those who are asked to go along for the ride. Again, as leaders, our influence has enormous impact on how smoothly, or how roughly, a change occurs within your organization.

When it comes to “managing change,” what not to do is try to control it. That is a one-dimensional approach, and control begets resistance. So instead, “lead rationally.” This is a more effective scenario and endorses open communication with staff and allows you to get buy-in through your influence. To do this, we must first understand ourselves and our roles. Great leaders possess:

1. The ability to observe their own behavior

2. An awareness of their own actions

3. An awareness of their own thoughts and feelings

4. An ability to lead from the inside out

Self-awareness also enhances the way you communicate, which hinges largely on how you are as a leader, rather than merely the information you tell your staff.

Being multi-directional is a great way to communicate. Our communication style — our “being” — comes more fully to life when we approach communication as a multi-layered relational process, rather than a mono directional process. If we, for instance, send a memo or make an announcement at a staff meeting, this is an example of monodirectional communication, and leaves little space for the staff to become part of the process. It is important to involve your team in conversations regarding change. Here are some things to keep in mind to increase staff involvement — and even their enthusiasm — during times of change within our organizations:

1. More is more (don’t keep them in the dark)

2. Feel their fears (use empathy to see it from their perspective)

3. Silence is not acceptance (just because someone isn’t voicing their objections doesn’t mean they don’t have them)

4. Turn your communications into conversations

5. Reframe the change as a process, rather than an event.

6. Go low-tech (as best you can, frame the discussion in everyday, easy-to-follow ways, so everyone understands what’s going on)

7. Show appreciation (change can be hard for everyone — recognize their efforts)

Finally here are some key techniques for any leader using communication:

Integrity — Integrity means alignment of words and actions with inner values. It means sticking to these values even when an alternative path may be easier or more advantageous. A leader with integrity can be trusted and will be admired for sticking to strong values. They also act as a powerful model for people to copy, thus building an entire organization with powerful and effective cultural values.

Dedication — Dedication means spending whatever time and energy on a task is required to get the job done, rather than giving it whatever time you have available. The work of most leadership positions is not something to do “if there’s time.” It means giving your whole self to the task, dedicating yourself to success and to leading others with you.

Nobility — A magnanimous person gives credit where it is due. It also means being gracious in defeat and allowing others who are defeated to retain their dignity. Magnanimity in leadership includes crediting the people with success and accepting personal responsibility for failures.

Humility — Humility is the opposite of arrogance and narcissism. It means recognizing that you are not inherently superior to others and, consequently, that they are not inferior to you. It does not mean diminishing yourself, nor does it mean exalting yourself. Humble leaders do not debase themselves, neither falsely nor due to low self-esteem. They simply recognize all people as equal in value and know that their position does not make them a god.

Openness — Openness means being able to listen to ideas that are outside one’s current mental models, being able to suspend judgment until after one has heard someone else’s ideas. An open leader listens to their people without trying to shut them down early, which at least demonstrates care and builds trust. Openness also treats other ideas as potentially better than one’s own ideas. In the uncertain world of new territory, being able to openly consider alternatives is an important skill.

Creativity — Creativity means thinking differently, being able to get “outside the box” and take a new and different viewpoint on things. Creativity provides the ability for leaders to think differently and see things that others have not when leading them towards a new future, and thus giving reason for followers to follow.

David Villa
About the author: 

Based in Florida, David Villa is President and Chief Executive Officer of IPD, an automotive marketing firm servicing franchised dealerships.  David’s leadership has grown IPD into one of the largest, privately-held automotive solutions companies in America.  Follow Mr. Villa on Twitter.