Harness the Importance of Communication to Support Change

I've learned not to underestimate the importance of communication when managing change.

Change is successful when each individual understands the need for change and what they need to do. People ensure that change is successful. If people aren't on board or are unsure what to do then your best plans will fail.

I'm sure you've heard that 'location, location, location' is your mantra when buying a house.

During change management we need to think

'communication'

                    'communication'

                                        'communication'

It's that important.

Clear continual and consistent communication

That's why communication about change needs to be

  • clear
  • continual
  • and consistent.

The Importance of Communication

Your communication goal is to create awareness of change but the importance of communication goes further than this.

Effective communication helps people understand why change is necessary and supports them to confidently implement and sustain change.

What is Communication?

Before moving on let's look at some basics as I'm often asked about the meaning of 'communication' in the context of change. So what is communication? At it's core communication is a transaction of meaning that happens between people and that includes:

  • verbal communication
  • non verbal communication, and
  • listening skills.

I find that keeping a definition of communication in mind helps me remember just what I'm trying to achieve.

Communication is a transaction, a two-way process and you should always expect a response to your message. In fact, feedback is an essential part of communication. Ideally we want to encourage a response and build opportunities for feedback into our communication plan.

If you're concerned about getting negative responses work out how to manage these rather than avoiding feedback altogether.

Of course this means that managing our response to feedback can be as important as the message we're sending.

Awareness of your feelings and managing your responses are two areas of emotional intelligence that are essential to communication, and effective change management.

Create a Communication Plan

It's never really been a good idea to be reactive and communicate spontaneously to situations that occur during a process of change.

Essentially you're on the back foot, constantly waiting for 'what's next?'. When others notice that you're not prepared they lose confidence in you.

That's why it's worth making the time to create a communication plan.

Planning the what, when, why and how of communication during change is a proactive tool that supports you and others. It's also evidence to all that you value the importance of communication.

Types of Communication

Our first response might be that communication is about talking to people and listening to what they say. You'd be right if that's what you were thinking but can silence be a form of communication?

Imagine you're talking to someone and all you get is an icy stare. What's that person telling you?  They're definitely communicating something and that's why it's essential to be aware of other types of communication during change management.

Another way to think about this is that different types of communication happen in different contexts. Acknowledging the importance of communication means we should be aware that the way we communicate in different contexts might change.

So take a moment to consider how different types of communication will be utilised in your change process. Some of the types we'll consider include:

  • verbal communication
  • non verbal communication
  • cross cultural communication
  • intrapersonal communication
  • assertive communication
  • and listening skills.

Barriers to Communication

There's always going to be something that has the potential to prevent effective communication. This is often referred to as a communication barrier.

A communication barrier can be physical, such as distance or noise, or psychological, such as stereotyping.

It's essential to be aware of communication barriers and plan for them so that your change management message is received and understood.

Feedback

The major difference between one-way and two-way communication is that in two-way communication you create opportunities for constant feedback during communication.

One-way communication generally does not require feedback or feedback is delayed. Advertising or speaking to large audiences might be an example of one-way communication.

I've noticed many organizations simply telling staff about change and expecting them to get on with it.  One-way communication like this is often perceived negatively and can be a major contributor to resistance to change.

Understanding how your change management communication is received and understood is critical to the importance of communication during change.

Two way communication is a transaction of meanings

In my experience successful change emphasizes the need for two-way communication and actively encourages feedback. This feedback should come from formal and informal sources and can include social media and small group meetings.

Listening is one of the most important but least considered skills to obtain feedback in communication.

One of Stephen Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is "Seek first to understand, then to be understood" which captures the value of listening in the importance of communication. This is a very useful habit to remember when managing change and communicating about change.

Creating effective change

On this page I've emphasized the importance of communication in order to ensure positive change and pointed to some of the factors that are important for successful communication. Good communication helps to eliminate people's fear of change and manage resistance to change that might emerge.

I don't believe it's possible to not communicate. We're always communicating even when we're silent. Clear, continual and consistent messages about change emphasise your commitment to the importance of communication in change management.




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