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Leading Change Through Communication

Recently I have read lots of tweets and articles on large organisations across the world, experiencing change.

There are many great threads out there  giving ideas on how to manage change and I repeatedly see the words "we need to listen." This is generally referring to listening to communities, customers, clients, the public.

This is then followed by sentences like,"we are hoping to build better relationships", or "we are trying to give people a better service", or "we must do more for less"".

When we insert the words "hope to" and "try", we immediately caveat the process by inserting a negative and give ourselves an excuse not to actually get something done. When we use the word "must" we are demanding people take an action, being directional without giving choice.

What does listening to someone really mean?

Many successful business leaders will tell you to find out what motivates people, what are their values and beliefs? This is a great place to start because if you know what motivates a person you can use this to influence them and create behaviour change. But how do you find this out?

Further blogs will follow in regard to understanding values and beliefs as these are what drives us to do what we do and deserve at least one article probably more!

The way to find out about someone's motivators are to listen to the power words they use when they talk to you.

Listen to the words they emphasise in the conversation. When we use words like must, should, need, want, these are words driven by what we believe to be true. So for example, someone's values are being treated fairly. They are stopped by the police for a minor road traffic offence. They have never been in trouble before and are given a ticket. They know they have done wrong but feel they have been treated unfairly. 

As they continue their journey they now see lots of people commit the same offence but the officer doesn't stop them. This will compound their sense of unfairness. Add to this any hint of race, sex, age and this will increase the bias of the person.

The person, when stopped, will probably use language like, "I need my licence to be clean", or "you should just give me a warning, I am a law abiding citizen". "You must have better things to do with your time."

What if your employee is driven by the value of family and you ask them to work at the weekend. They have already promised the kids they will take them out. They will probably say sentences like, "Can't you get someone else, I need to be at home with the kids." or "there must be someone else who can do it, I need to be at home".

Whenever you go against a value or belief you will be met with resistance.

So how can we move people forward and influence behaviour change.

A good place to start is to note down all the values and beliefs you believe are important to the person/people you are talking to.  

Now think about how they perceive you  or the organisation you work for - write these down. 

Use this when you talk to them and give them some good reasons, ones they can understand, based on their value and belief system.

Let's take the person who has been given the ticket. They come into complain and you are the person taking the complaint.

From what you know fairness is valuable to them. You start your conversation explaining:


  1. why you think they are complaining, based on everything you know - a summary;

  2. add in how you think they feel, they will tell you if you are wrong;

  3. give them reasons as to why something has or hasn't happened and 

  4. ask how you can help them.


These 4 steps above can be used in any conversation. They work when addressing groups, individuals in work or home related discussions. 

Above all be genuine and remember behind every conversation is a person who will be making a judgement on you based on what they believe to be true.

The Communication Coach

Riseley, Bedford MK44, UK

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