Louis L’Amour, the popular author of novels about the Amercian Wild West, once wrote that “The only thing that never changes is that everything changes”. Buddha expressed the same notion, a bit more elegantly, when he spoke of the “permanence of change”.
Even before Covid-19, change and disruption have become a part of our daily personal and work lives. Today, the social and economic fallout of the pandemic on top of rapidly evolving technology, an ever-growing amount of data and the need to integrate globally are forcing organizations to update policies, change strategies and even re-think their original vision in order to survive. Unfortunately experts point to a historical 70% failure rate of most change initiatives within an organization.
Leadership, change management, and communication are inextricably intertwined. It is impossible to achieve the first two without well-developed communication skills. There are many excellent change management and communication strategies that can help a company avoid the 70% failure rate but a leader’s own personal communication style…and competence… can go a long way towards the success of any change initiative.
Albert Einstein famously said; “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” A leader needs to reflect on whether their communication style helps or hinders the push for change and… adapt.
When we use the word “communicate”, we are referring not only to words that are used to transfer factual information to another, but also to other “messages“ that are sent or received.
It is through words, actions, body language, tone of voice, and other processes that you send many messages about yourself, about change, and about your organization. This is precisely half of the communication process. The second half is to verify that your message is received and interpreted in the way you intended it to be. Here’s a few tips on how to achieve effective communication.
- Adapt your communication style to your audience. Every employee’s motivations are different, so knowing how to tailor your communication is essential to influencing others and reaching organizational goals.
- Use multiple communication channels. There are many ways to communicate with your employees. Since individual employees will respond better to different methods than others, be sure not to rely on a singular channel. These can include one-on-one’s, emails, videos, social media.
- Be clear. Always speak in specifics. Clearly define the company’s goals, opportunities, and challenges and about what you want to see achieved.
- Keep an open body language. Communication isn’t just what you say. More than ninety-three percent of communication’s impact comes from nonverbal cues. Positive body language supports your points, helps you convey ideas more clearly, and avoids sending mixed messages. Good posture, good eye contact, good Zoom technique count!
- Be Transparent. By speaking openly about the challenges as well as the opportunities of change you can build trust amongst your team and foster an environment where employees feel empowered to share their ideas and collaborate.
- Practice empathy. The better you get at acknowledging and understanding employees’ feelings and experiences, the more heard and valued they will feel.
- Actively listen to the people with whom you communicate. Remember that, although you communicate in a way that seems clear to you, the recipient of the message has their own information “filters” which can distort the message received.
- Get feedback. Receivers of your message have selective listening: they hear and process certain information and neglect others. The only way to make sure you’ve created a common understanding is to ask others what they heard and what their reactions are.
- And finally…. get help! Admit it if you are not another Tony Robbins and you need professional communications training. A leader is someone who inspires positive, incremental change by empowering those around them to work toward common objectives. When good communication skills are lacking, important information can be misinterpreted, causing relationships to suffer and, ultimately, creating barriers that hinder progress. Communication skills, like all skills, need to change and adapt to current needs. Embrace the permanence of change and learn how to effectively communicate through it.